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16 Weird Forgotten English Words We Should Bring Back

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Getty Images (main) / Thinkstock (cheese) / Erin McCarthy

English changes all the time, often in subtle ways—so it's not surprising that we've lost many delightful words and phrases along the way. In his wonderful book Forgotten English, Jeffrey Kacirk takes a closer look at the origins and histories of these language relics. Here are a few of our favorite words from the book; for more, check out Kacirk's website.

1. ASTROLOGAMAGE

The medieval era's Miss Cleos, these so-called wise men made predictions based on what was happening in the sky.

2. CRAPULENCE

This word, from the Latin root crapula, arose in the 18th century. According to Kacirk, it "denoted intestinal and cranial distress ... arising from intemperance and debauchery." Put another way: If you get crunk, expect crapulence.

3. EYE-SERVANT

A term describing a servant who did his duty only lazily except when within sight of his master, "a form of insincerity known as 'eye-service,'" Kacirk notes. Replace servant with employee and master with boss, and you could probably know a few people to whom this term would apply.

4. FLITTERWOCHEN

This Old English expression (probably borrowed from German) meant "fleeting weeks," and refers to what we today call a honeymoon. Flitterwochen is, obviously, a much better word.

5. FRIBBLER

Though this term comes from the 18th century, chances are you know a fribbler. He says he's really into a lady, but just won't commit. The behavior of a fribbler was called fribbledom, by the way.

6. GROANING-CHEESE

Back in the day, husbands didn't just hold their wives' hands during childbirth—they gave them the medieval version of an epidural: Cheese. Groaning-cheese was said to soothe a lady in labor, and so husbands paired it with groaning-cake and groaning-drink. 

7. GROG-BLOSSOM

A word from the 18th century for the dilation of blood vessels—caused by long-term overconsumption of the drink—in an alcoholic's nose.

8. LETTICE-CAP

A medical device (which Kacirk says resembles a hair net) that was used in the 16th and 17th centuries. After the patient's head was shaved, the cap was filled with herbs and placed on his head, supposedly curing him of ailments like headaches and insomnia.

9. MUMPSIMUS

This Middle English word originally meant "an incorrigible, dogmatic old pedant," but eventually came to refer to an incorrect opinion that someone clung to. According to Kacirk, the word originated with an illiterate 15th century clergyman, who incorrectly copied the Latin word sumpsimus and read it in mass.

10. NIGHT-HAG

If people living from medieval times up until the 19th century had a bad dream, they could blame it on a night-hag. This female demon's M.O. was to kidnap people at night on horseback, and give them nightmares by "producing a feeling of suffocation," according to Kacirk. There were a number of strategies for keeping a night-hag at bay, including: placing bread blessed at the local parish under a child's pillow; arranging shoes under the bed with the toes pointing out; and hanging flint chips—aka hag-stones—around the bedposts.

11. NIMGIMMER

A 17th century term for a surgeon who specialized in curing pox or the clap.

12. NUMBLES

This Anglo-Saxon word, taken from Old French, refers to animal intestines and internal organs, which were eaten by peasants in a dish called garbage pye. Yum!

13. PETTY-FOGGER

From the the 16th to 19th centuries, people would have called lawyers like Breaking Bad's Saul Goodman petty-foggers. "For a fee, these attorneys were willing to quibble over insignificant legal points ... or use unethical practices in order to win a case," Kacirk writes.

14. PIGGESNYE

Chaucer coined this term (which, according to Kacirk, comes from the phrase "pig's eye") for a sweetheart. Use it next Valentine's Day and see what happens.

15. PILGARLIK

A 16th century word for a bald head, which apparently resembled peeled garlic.

16. RATTONER

Nobody wants to say that the exterminator is coming over. Use this 14th century term—taken from the Old French word raton and the Medieval Latin word ratonis, which both refer to rats, according to Kacirk—instead.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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