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40 Useful Y-Words To Add To Your Vocabulary

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The ancestor of our humble letter Y is the twentieth letter of the Greek alphabet, upsilon, which was adopted into the Latin alphabet around 2,000 years ago to represent the “y” sound (or the voiced palatal approximant, to give it its proper name) found in some Ancient Greek loanwords. To speakers of Romance languages, like French and Spanish, this “y” sound was new, and so the classical origin of the newly-imported Y was retained in the letter’s name (i-grec in French, i-griega in Spanish, ípsilon in Portuguese, and so on). But as a Germanic language, English already had a “y” sound, and so Y quickly found a home for itself at the tail end of our alphabet—by the early Middle Ages, it had firmly established itself as the go-to choice of letter for scribes wanting to represented the “y” sound in English, ousting the ancient letter yogh, ȝ, which had until then been used to represent the same sound, from our alphabet.

As a relative latecomer to the English alphabet, however, Y has never been a particularly common letter: despite being found in a number of the most frequent words in the language (by, you, your, they, say), you can still only expect it to account for a little over 1.5 percent of all written language, and roughly the same proportion of the words in a dictionary—including the 40 useful Y-words listed here.

1. YAAGER

An old word from the far north of Scotland for an especially strong man. It’s probably derived from yoker, another name for a workhorse.

2. YAFFLE

To yaffle is to eat or drink messily, or to talk incoherently. It’s also another name for the green woodpecker, which supposedly makes a “yaffling” call.

3. YAGIMENT

A state of excitement.

4. YAHRZEIT

Derived via Yiddish from the German for “year-time,” a yahrzeit is an anniversary observed on the date of a person’s death.

5. YAKKA

Australian slang term for hard work, derived from an Aboriginal word.

6. YALLACRACK

An old Scots English word for a loud noise, or a particularly noisy argument or fight.

7. YAM

As a verb, yam can be used to mean “to eat appreciatively.”

8. YAPLY

To do something yaply is to do it nimbly or agilely.

9. YARD-OF-PUMPWATER

The perfect word from 19th century slang for a tall, lanky man…

10. YARN-CHOPPER

…followed by a 19th century nickname for someone who talks very verbosely, or a journalist who concocts or sensationalizes their stories. Also called a yarn-slinger.

11. YAUCHLE

To shuffle along or walk in an awkward manner.

12. YAW-YAW

Coined by Charles Dickens in Hard Times, to yaw-yaw is to talk haughtily or affectedly.

13. YAY-NAY

18th-19th century slang for an empty-headed person—literally someone who can only give “yes” or “no” answers.

14. YEAR-MIND

An old 15th century word for an anniversary or memorial.

15. YEGG

Supposedly (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) derived from the surname of some notorious American criminal, in early 1900s slang a yegg or yeggman was a burglar or safebreaker.

16. YELLOW-BACK

In Victorian England, some book publishers began mass-producing cheap, sensationalist novels to compete with the increasingly popular penny-dreadfuls. The books—totaling more than 1,000 different titles—were printed and bound in bright mustard-yellow jackets to attract readers’ attention, and were put on sale not in book stores but as impulse buys in tobacconists, train stations, and other everyday locations. Although the yellow-back publishing trend didn’t last, the name has remained in use in English to describe any sensationalist, mass-produced, and often poor-quality novel.

17. YELLOW-BEAL

An old English dialect word for someone who goes fishing, but comes home empty-handed.

18. YELLOW-YOWLING

In 18th century English, if you were yellow-yowling then you were sickly looking.

19. YEPSEN

The “bowl” you make cupping your hands together is called a gowpen, and the amount you can hold in it—in other words, a double handful—is a yepsen, or a yepsintle.

20. YERTDRIFT

A yertdrift is a snow storm accompanied by a very strong wind, which causes the snow to drift. The yert– part is probably a corruption of “earth,” referring to the downward fall of snow.

21. YESTERTEMPEST

Yesterday and yesteryear aren’t the only yester words in the English language. You can also talk about yestermorn, yester-afternoon, yestereve or yestere’en, yesternight and, should the need ever arise, yestertempest—the last storm.

22. YEVEROUS

If you’re yever then you’re greedy or covetous. If you’re yeverous, then you’re eager or impetuous.

23. YIDDLE

An old Scots word essentially meaning “to play idly on a musical instrument”—especially when the noise you’re getting out of it isn’t particularly musical…

24. YIM

To break something into fragments.

25. YIRD-HUNGER

A particularly voracious appetite. Literally means “a desire to own your own land.”

26. YLEPHOBIA

Also called hylophobia, ylephobia is an irrational fear or dislike of wooden objects. Figuratively, it’s also used to refer to a hatred of materialism.

27. YOGIBOGEYBOX

Coined by James Joyce in Ulysses (1922), a yogibogeybox is all the paraphernalia carried by a spiritualist.

28. YOJAN

The word yojan or yojana was borrowed into English in the 18th century from Hindi, but it derives ultimately from a Sanskrit word meaning “yoking.” Literally, it refers to the distance a yoked animal can be expected to walk before needing to rest or be unyoked—but according to Noah Webster, you can use it as just another name for a distance of five miles. Webster’s definition was probably based on an earlier explanation of the term that stated “the circumference of the Earth is equal to 5,059 yojunus,” which given a circumference of 24,901 miles makes one yojan equal to 4.92 miles. Other dictionaries are much less precise however, with the Oxford English Dictionary pointing out that, given the word’s literal meaning, in its native India it’s variously used to refer to a distance of anything from four to ten miles.

29. YOKE-FELLOW

A yoke-fellow or yoke-mate is a 16th century word for a co-worker or colleague, or someone who is involved alongside you in an arduous or unpleasant task, whereas…

30. YOKE-DEVIL

…a yoke-devil is someone with whom you’re up to no good. Shakespeare coined the term in Henry V.

31. YONDERWARD

Yonder—as in “yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”—is an old Middle English word essentially meaning “at that place,” or “over there.” As well as heading yonderward (“in that direction”), you can also talk about the yondermost (“most distant”) place, and can do something yonderway (“like that” or “in that way”). Yonderly is an old English dialect word meaning “sullen” or “melancholy.”

32. YORKROOM

The unploughed, overgrown edge of a field is the yorkroom.

33. YORKSHIRE

In the 17th century, the people of England’s largest county (now divided into four smaller counties or “ridings”) gained an unjust reputation for being penny-pinching and dishonest. As a result, to Yorkshire someone came to mean to cheat or dupe them; a Yorkshire bite is a particularly cunning ploy; and, in 19th century slang, a Yorkshire compliment was “a gift useless to the giver and not wanted by the receiver.”

34. YOUF

To yarr is to bark or snarl like a dog, and to yawl is to howl like a dog. But when a dog barks in a half-suppressed way, it youfs.

35. YOUNKER

A fashionable, or inexperienced, young man.

36. YPSILIFORM

Derived from upsilon, something described as ypsiliform is Y-shaped.

37. YULE-HOLE

The hole you have to move your belt to after Christmas dinner, or any equally enormous meal? That’s the Yule-hole.

38. YUMP

When a car leaves the ground when it crests a hill at speed, it yumps.

39. YUMPLING

Grumbling or complaining.

40. YUNK

When a horse yunks it tries to unseat its rider. Derived from that, yunk-a-cuddie is an old game similar to leapfrog.

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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