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47 More Words That Sound Rude (But Actually Aren’t)

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Last year, we posted this list of words—from aholehole to wankapin—that sound, well, a lot more suspect than their fairly mundane meanings might suggest. (An aholehole is a Hawaiian flagtail fish, by the way, and a wankapin is a Central American lotus plant.) That list, however, was just the tip of the suspect-sounding iceberg: Here are 47 more entirely genuine English words that sound rude, but really aren’t. Honest. 


An old Scots word for a sore and inflamed spot or zit, or a pockmark—or as the Dictionary of the Scots Language defines it, “a hot pimple.”


Listed in Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language as another name for the plant dyer’s-weed, Reseda luteola.


Another word for a bumboat—a vessel used to transport provisions to a larger ship. 


A term used in archery, referring to “a target arrow without a barb.”


A 17th century word for a fishwife—butt, in this case, is derived from “turbot.”


An English corruption of caucauasu, an Algonquin word for a wiseman or elder, cockarouse was used by early American colonists for someone who held a position of responsibility or consequence. 


In a flour mill, the cock-head is apparently the upper part of the spindle around which the topmost millstone sits.


A juvenile Australian snapper fish.


A 17th century word for any item of clothing worn to hide a dirty or untidy garment underneath.


A local name for the Mississippi sunfish, Pomoxis annularis


An old Scots word for poor-quality curds—not good enough to be used to make cheese—that are instead served just as they are, with a pinch of salt.


Watch how you pronounce this one—it’s just another word meaning “all-powerful.”


An 18th century word for an earthenware vase filled with hot coals and used as a foot-warmer.


An early 19th century dialect nickname for Colaptes auratus, a bird of the woodpecker family.


A 19th century word for any bird—and in particular the kingfisher—that nests in holes in riverbanks or cliff tops.


The thickest part of a horse’s hide (or the hide of any similar animal) that’s used to make the toughest, thickest leather.


A con artist or small-time crook.


A type of “trading vessel in the Philippine islands,” according to the OED.


A smaller-than-normal poop deck on board a ship.


Think again—that’s pronounced “pen isle,” in case you’re wondering, and it’s a 17th century word for a peninsula.


Named for the Indian city of Pune, poonalite or poonahlite is another name for the quartz-like mineral scolecite


Definitely not what it sounds: this is an old 19th century nautical slang word for an apprentice sailor.


An old Scots word for a male turkey.


Prick is an old word for an archery target or bulls-eye, and a shaft is simply an arrow. Put together, a prickshaft is an arrow used specifically in target practice, or else refers to the arrow that falls most closely to the target in a game of archery. Dates back to Tudor England. 


Old 1920s criminal slang for stealing fur coats and stoles.


An old-fashioned (and thankfully long-forgotten) word meaning to reverberate or to resound. A rimbombo is a deep rumble of thunder.


A very unfortunate Scots corruption of the French word escarpines—a pair of thin-soled shoes or slippers.


An old dialect word for the waste material from a slate quarry, or for blocks of substandard quality slate. 


The little-used etymological cousin of words like bifarious and trifarious, sexfarious simply means “comprising six parts.”


A mathematical adjective defined by the OED as “relating to or involving a point of contact of the sixth degree.”


An old nautical term for the passageway on a ship leading from the engine room to the stern, which houses the shafts of the propellers. Because it was so secluded, crewmembers would often meet to gossip there—so shaft-alley eventually came to be used as a byword for gossipy, unreliable information too.


Simply defined as a “term of abuse” by the OED, with just one recorded use dating back to 1642.


Shittle is an old 15th century word meaning “fickle” or “inconsistent” (and is probably related to skittish). If you’re shittle-witted or shittle-brained, ultimately, you’re hot-headed and changeable. 


A Victorian English word for a bin or garbage heap, or a receptacle for rubbish.


Nineteenth century American slang for the water that collects in hollows of tree stumps, spunk-water was once believed to be a cure for warts; Mark Twain mentions it in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.


An old English dialect word for the mistle thrush, a European songbird whose song was supposed to forecast a storm or downpour of rain. 


Any one of a number of medium-sized songbirds native to India and southeast Asia, including the pin-striped and the fluffy-backed tit-babblers


An old 18th century Scots word for the latest news …


… and an old 18th century Yorkshire word for a small quantity of something left over after all the rest has been used. 


Describing anything resembling a thrush (or a stormcock, for that matter).


A 17th century word for twilight.


A Scots dialect word for a meeting between two people, or a tête-a-tête.


A term from the botanical study of mosses, essentially referring to the base of the tip of a single “blade” of a mossy plant. 


While Wankel (spelled with an –el and an upper-case W) is the name of a type of engine, wankle (with an –le and a lower-case w) is an old word meaning “unsteady,” or “in weak health.” 


An 18th century Scots word for a child that has not been properly suckled.


An old nickname for the kestrel, referring to its ability to hover in one spot


An old word from Cornwall meaning “dizzy” or “in a spin.” Willy-wurly-way is an old English name for a game of tag.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.