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20th Television

10 Words The Simpsons Made Famous

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20th Television

After 550+ episodes—and with no end in sight—The Simpsons has changed the way we talk to one another. Here are 10 words that the show has made famous, either by inventing them or re-purposing them to make us laugh, think, and then laugh again.

1. CHOCOTASTIC

In the season seven episode "King-Size Homer," Homer tries to gain enough weight to tip scales at more than 300 pounds, which will get his big posterior on work disability. Naturally, he goes to see Dr. Nick Riviera to help him reach that unhealthy goal. The Hollywood Upstairs Medical College that educated Dr. Nick informed him of the three "neglected" food groups: the Whipped Group, the Congealed group, and the Chocotastic! (Emphasis Nick's.)

Strangely enough, when Homer asks how to speed up the weight gain process, he's told to substitute bread for Pop Tarts. Years later, stores in the UK and Australia started stocking "Frosted Chocotastic" Pop Tarts. Kellogg's states that in this case, Chocotastic means "Chocolate flavour filling in a frosted pastry," 198 calories at a time.

2. CRAPTACULAR

Unmoved by Homer's weak Christmas lights, Bart offers that the display looks "craptacular" in season nine's "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace." The word was likely used prior to the episode's December 1997 airing, but it became a popular way to say that something or someone was "spectacularly crappy" after the show's use of it.

Some examples of its post-Simpsons use are the 2002 Marvel Comics limited series The Craptacular B-Sides, a Howard Stern contest where contestants weigh the waste they generated after stuffing their faces for 24 hours, and an "Annual Holiday Craptacular" that benefits the San Francisco Food Bank.

3. CROMULENT

"Cromulent" is a word created by Simpsons writer David X. Cohen, who would go on to co-develop Futurama with Matt Groening. Cohen came up with the word for the season seven episode "Lisa the Iconoclast," where Ms. Hoover tells Mrs. Krabappel that the slightly less fictitious "embiggen" is a "perfectly cromulent" word.

Cromulent is now listed in Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English, and its dictionary.com listing says that cromulent is an adjective meaning "fine" or "acceptable."

4. D'OH!

Even though "D'oh" isn't written on Simpsons scripts—"annoyed grunt" has always been how it appears on paper—it's listed in Webster's Millennium Dictionary of English and the Oxford English Dictionary as "Used to comment on a foolish or stupid action, especially one’s own." Dan Castellaneta started saying "D'oh!" as Homer to mimic actor James Finlayson's "Doooooooo" from Laurel & Hardy movies. After Matt Groening told Castellaneta to shorten it due to time constraints, it became "D'oh!"

Even though Castellaneta was thinking about a Laurel and Hardy actor, "D'oh" was uttered often between 1945 and 1949 by actress Diana Morrison on the BBC radio series It's That Man Again. Playing the secretary Ms. Hotchkiss, Morrison would leave a room saying "d'oh!" to vent her frustration dealing with her boss Tommy Handley.

5. EMBIGGEN

"Embiggen" first appeared in 1884 when C.A. Ward tried to come up with a suitably ugly new verb to make a point about neologisms. One hundred and twelve years later, it reappeared in "Lisa the Iconoclast" as Springfield's "cromulent" motto: "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man."

Unlike cromulent, embiggen has yet to meet the standards of any legitimate dictionaries. That didn't stop a real-life team of physicists from writing that "...the gradient of the Myers potential encouraging an anti-D3 to embiggen is very mild" in their 2007 paper "Gauge/gravity duality and meta-stable dynamical supersymmetry breaking," published in the journal High Energy Physics [PDF].

6. JEBUS

Homer pleads for the help of "Jebus" in season 11's "Missionary: Impossible" while escaping from a bloodthirsty Betty White and her PBS pledge drive cronies. Despite the fact that Homer is a regular (albeit unenthusiastic) churchgoer, he was not referring to the Jebusites in the Old Testament who, before King David conquered it, inhabited and built a town called Jebus, which later became Jerusalem—he just got Jesus' name wrong.

7. KWYJIBO

In the season one episode "Bart the Genius," Bart attempts to cheat in a game of Scrabble by putting "kwyjibo" on the board. When asked what a kwyjibo could possibly be, Bart said it was a "big, dumb, balding North American ape ... with no chin," a thinly veiled description of how he perceived Homer. The invented word from The Simpsons' writers' room has since been used as one of the aliases for the Melissa mass-mailing computer virus that affected some Windows users in 1999. Kwyjibo is also the name of an Iron Oxide Copper Gold deposit in Quebec, and an advanced yo-yo trick. (Make sure you don't attempt that trick near a fish tank.)

8. MEH

An investigation into the etymology of "meh" discovered that it may have Yiddish origins, but the first use of "meh" as a word expressing indifference came from a July 9, 1992 Usenet post complaining about Melrose Place. John Swartzwelder was credited with first introducing "meh" into a Simpsons script, and when reached for comment, he claimed he heard it from an advertising writer who said it was the funniest word in the world—in the early '70s. No matter its origins, The Simpsons was responsible for making it one of the 20 words that defined the 2000s, according to BBC News online.

9. UNPOSSIBLE

Ralph Wiggum famously proved that he deserved his grade when he said, "Me fail English? That's unpossible!" in "Lisa on Ice." Well, it turns out that "unpossible" is an actual word that can be found in Shakespeare's Richard II; it's just another way to say "impossible." It can also be found in 1829's A Glossary of North Country Words, In Use. After Ralph brought the outdated word back to life, unpossible has since been used as a title for a short story collection and a popular game.

10. YOINK

Simpsons writer George Meyer has been credited with coming up with the idea to have a character say "yoink" when taking an item from someone or something. Former showrunner Bill Oakley tweeted recently that Meyer actually got "yoink" from Archie Comics. Still, after being said 23 times on The Simpsons, "yoink" has become the word of choice to make light of a situation when someone's property is being taken. It's also the name of a popular drag and drop app.

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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
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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