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13 Words of the Year from Other Countries

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The U.S. words of the year for 2014 included vape, culture, and #blacklivesmatter. But what about the rest of the world? Here are the word of the year winners from 13 other countries.


The Norwegian Language Council named fremmedkriger, “foreign fighters,” the word of the year. It refers to people who travel to another country to fight in a conflict for ideological reasons. The term was in the news after it was discovered that a number of Norwegian citizens had gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS. It won out over words like mobilnakke (“mobile neck,” pain from bad posture using mobile device), viral, emoji, and deleøkonomi (“sharing economy”).


The Swedish Language Council puts together a list of new words for the year, but doesn’t pick a single winner. I liked attefallshus, a small structure for living in (see “tiny house movement”) that may be constructed without a building permit. It was named for former housing minister Stefan Attefall. It shares the new word stage with words like fotobomba (“photo bomb”), klickfiske (“clickfishing,” the act of using clickbait), and en, (a new gender neutral pronoun to replace man).


In Denmark, the radio show “Language Laboratory” chose Mobilepay, the name of a money transfer app created by a Danish bank that has become so popular it’s being used as a verb (“I already mobilpayed him yesterday”). Other choices were madspild (“food waste”), hverdagssexisme (“everyday sexism”), and girafgate (from the scandal associated with the killing of a giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo).


Germany commemorated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with a Lichtgrenze, a “border of light,” made up of a line of lighted balloons along the former border between East and West. Other candidates for word of the year chosen by the Society for German Language were schwarze Null (“black zero,” referring to government efforts to balance the budget), Goetzseidank (a play on Gott sei Dank or “thank God,” in reference to Soccer player Mario Goetze, who scored to win the World Cup for Germany), and Generation Kopf unten (“generation head down,” for the generation that is always looking down at their devices).


In the Netherlands, the Van Dale dictionary group chose dagobertducktaks, “Scrooge McDuck tax,” a tax on the super rich. The “youth language” category choice was aanmodderfakker (someone with no ambition in life, from a blend of aanmodderen, “muddle,” and motherf***er). The “lifestyle” category choice was vergeetverzoek, “forget request,” a request to a search engine that sensitive information be removed.


In Belgium, the winner was flitsmarathon, the name for an all-day operation of speed checks where police sometimes hand out over 20,000 speeding tickets. The youth language choice was onesie (footed pajamas) and the lifestyle winner was overschotdoos (“surplus box,” or doggy bag, a concept still new to Belgium).


The Fundéu BBVA, a Madrid organization tasked with the protection of the purity of the Spanish language, made selfi, without the English e, the word of the year. Previous suggestions such as autofoto and autorretrato (self-portrait) had failed to catch on, so the spelling change to selfi seemed the next best option. Other candidates were amigovio (blend of amigo, “friend,” and novio, “boyfriend/girlfriend,” for “friends with benefits”) and impago (successfully replacing “default” in discussion of the economy).


Médicalmant, a word for a medicine taken to in order to calm down (a blend of médicament, “drug,” and calmant, “soothing”) was selected word of the year at the annual XYZ Festival of New Words in Le Havre. Another favorite was casse-crotte, a play on the word for snack, casse-croûte, where the croûte is replaced by crotte, the word for turd. It describes a bad meal served with bad wine.


Australia’s National Dictionary Centre chose shirtfront, a word that made the news when Prime Minister Tony Abbott threatened to shirtfront Vladimir Putin over the MH17 incident, in which a plane was downed by Russian-backed rebels. It’s a term from Australian football for running into an opponent head-on in order to knock them down. Abbott did not make good on his threat, but the shirtfront did quite well as a subject of numerous opinion pieces and jokes.


A poll by publishing company Porto Editora selected corrupção, “corruption,” as word of the year. It won over words like selfie, gamificação, and cibervadiagem, “cyberslacking.”

11. 法(FĂ), CHINA

In China the character 法(fă) meaning “law” won a public vote for character of the year. Other candidates were 萌(méng, “cute”), 出柜 (chūguì, “come out of the closet”), and 暖男(nuǎnnán, “warm man”) which is basically, according to The World of Chinese, the “combination of a Disney Prince Charming and an ideal chick flick charmer.”

12. 税(ZEI), JAPAN

The Japanese Proficiency Society had a contest for kanji of the year and the winner was税(zei), meaning “tax,” a subject much on everyone’s mind after the consumption tax in Japan was raised in 2014 for the first time in 17 years.


Readers of newspaper Lianhe Zao Bao selected 乱 (luan, “chaos”) in reference to unrest in various places around the world. Terrorist attacks, a number of social protest movements, and the confusion and grief surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 all contributed to a sense that chaos was a defining characteristic of the year.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.