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40 Wonderful W-Words To Widen Your Vocabulary

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W is called “double-U” because it was once precisely that. Originally, the ancient Germanic languages of Europe didn’t have a letter to adequately represent their “w” sound (the labio-velar approximant, if you want to get technical), and so instead it was represented by two consecutive letter Us or Vs. Eventually, these two ran together into one single character, W, which has remained in use to this day. It's this history that gives W the longest name of any letter of the English language—and also means that the acronym www uniquely contains three times more syllables than it does letters.

Today the letter W accounts for just under 2 percent of all English language writing, but thanks to the high frequency of words like was, will, with, were, which, would, who, what, wherewhen, and why, you can expect W to be the first letter of roughly one in every twenty of the words you use every day. And that’s without adding any of these to your vocabulary…

1. WAG-FEATHER

An old slang name for a foolish, swaggering, braggish person, which goes well with…

2. WAG-PASTY

…this old Tudor word for a “mischievous rogue,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

3. WALLYDRAG

The youngest or last-hatched bird in a brood is the wallydrag or wally-draigle. Figuratively, you can also use this one to mean a thin or meager-looking person, or as a nickname for someone who always appears shabbily or untidily dressed.

4. WAMBLE-CROPPED

An old 16th century dialect word that spread to the US in the 19th century, if you’re wamble-cropped then you’re sick to your stomach. As a verb, wamble means “to feel nauseated,” or, figuratively, “to turn over and over."

5. WARDAY

A warday (pronounced so that “war” rhymes with “bar,” not “core”) is simply a weekday. The war– part is probably a contraction of “work.”

6. WARP

The unassuming word warp might just be one of the most bizarrely useful words in the English language. As well as meaning “to bend or distort out of shape,” the OED lists another 30 different definitions of the verb warp, including “to put on or take off a garment hastily,” “to sprinkle or scatter something across a surface,” both “to fling open a gate” and “to open a door wide,” “to float through the air,” “to deflect or divert something from its usual route or course,” “to move or work slowly on your hands and knees,” and “to suddenly place someone in great distress.”

7. WARZLEMENT

An old dialect word for sycophantic flattery or wheedling, persuading language.

8. WASHAMOUTH

An old dialect word used both for someone who habitually speaks before thinking, or who frequently uses bad language.

9. WASTEGOOD

A 16th century word for a spendthrift.

10. WATCH-BIRTH

An old 18th century nickname for a midwife. Bonus fact: midwives were also once nicknamed “rabbit-catchers.”

11. WATER-STANDING

Coined by Shakespeare in Henry VI: Part 3, the adjective water-standing means “flooded with tears.”

12. WEATHER-BREEDER

A cloudless sky might sound like perfect weather, but old folklore claims that a sky without a cloud in sight is actually an omen of heavy rain to come. As a result, a perfectly clear blue sky was once known as a weather-breeder, in the sense that it probably means that there’s a storm brewing.

13. WELL-A-FINE

Well-a-day is an old expression of woe or sorrow, but well-a-fine was essentially an 18th century equivalent of “what do you know!” or “that’s all well and good!”

14. WET-HAND

An old northern English nickname for a drunkard.

15. WHANGSBY

Whang is an old English dialect word meaning “to beat” or “thrash,” and derived from that, a whangsby is anything that is particularly tough or hard-wearing.

16. WHEEL-HORSE

Back at a time when horses were widely used for transport and to power machinery, a leader was a horse positioned in front of whatever contraption it was pulling or powering, while a wheel-horse was positioned among the machinery itself, typically between the shafts of two rotating wheels. As it was understandably believed that the leader had the better deal of the two, the 18th century word wheel-horse eventually came to be used figuratively to refer to anyone who works the hardest or bears the greatest burden in any particular enterprise or activity.

17. WHEEPLE

An old Scots dialect word used to mean “to whistle feebly or tunelessly.”

18. WHEERIEMIGO

Another Scots word, this time for any bizarre or fanciful contraption or device. Brilliantly, you can also use this one as a verb, meaning “to work in an insignificant manner.” A wheeriorum, incidentally, is any strange-looking object the function of which isn’t immediately clear.

19. WHEEZLE-RUNG

It’s worth remembering the next time you go camping that a stick used to lift a pot of boiling water from a fire is a wheezle-rung.

20. WHEFF

An old English dialect word for a noise made by a dog that’s part way between a bark and a snarl. However that might sound.

21. WHELKY

As well as being the name of a type of marine snail, whelk is an old English word for a pimple or pustule. So if you’re whelky, then you have a spotty complexion.

22. WHEMMLE

To whemmle something is to turn it upside down, in particular while you’re looking for something, or else to use as a cover or lid. So placing an upturned plate over a bowl of food is properly called whemmling.

23. WHIFFLE

To whiffle is to flicker or flutter through the air. Derived from that, a whiffler (as well as being another word for a tobacco-smoker) is someone who “whiffles” a sword or similar implement so as to clear a path through a crowd for a procession following behind them.

24. WHIP-BELLY

An 18th century slang nickname for weak or spoiled beer or liquor. A whip-belly rot was a bad stomach following a night of heavy drinking.

25. WINDY-WALLETS

An old nickname once used in Scotland for an incessant chatterer, or for someone who habitually tells exaggerated or unlikely stories.

26. WINGLE

To walk a staggering, zigzagging route. Possibly after too much whip-belly.

27. WITCHKNOT

Knots and tats in hair are supposedly tied there by witches, according to old English folklore, in which case they’re known as witchknots. Tats in a horse's mane or tail hair, incidentally, are witches’ stirrups.

28. WITHERSHINS

An 18th century word meaning “counter-clockwise,” or “in the opposite direction to normal.”

29. WITNESS-TREE

A tree used as a geographical marker, such as on a route or to mark a boundary, is a witness-tree.

30. WITTICASTER

A poor-quality comedian or joke-teller.

31. WONDERMONGER

A 17th century word for someone who works or deals in wonders.

32. WOSTLE

An old Yorkshire word meaning “to take refreshment at an inn.” Sometimes followed by the whip-belly rot.

33. WRISTLET

The loose elasticated loop that helps keep a glove on a hand? That’s the wristlet.

34. WRITATIVE

If you’re writative, then you love or are inclined to write. Just so long as you don’t write a writation—which is an 18th century word for a poorly written text.

35. WRIZZLED

Something that’s wrizzled is creased or corrugated, or shriveled up. It’s probably derived from an even earlier word, writhled, which meant much the same thing.

36. WRONGHEAD

Someone who always seems to come up with bizarre ideas or irrational, ill-informed judgments is a wronghead.

37. WRONGO

1930s slang for a counterfeit coin, or a disreputable or dishonest person.

38. WUNDERKAMMER

Literally a “wonder-chamber” in German, Wunderkammer is another name for a “cabinet of curiosities”—a miscellaneous collection of bizarre objects or novelties. Wunderkammers were extremely popular in Europe after the end of the Renaissance and became a handy way for the enlightened and educated to display their varied interests and breadth of knowledge. After his death in 1753, one noted English naturalist and collector of curios, Sir Hans Sloane, bequeathed his Wunderkammer to the British nation; it eventually became The British Museum.

39. WUTHER

As Emily Brontë herself explained in her 1847 novel, “Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff's dwelling. ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.” Also spelled whither or whudder, wuther first appeared in the language in the mid-1400s, when it originally meant “to move with great force.” It’s likely descended from an even earlier Scandinavian word, meaning “to move or knock back and forth.”

40. WYLIECOAT

An old Tudor period word for a waistcoat, or any similar garment worn underneath other clothes.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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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.

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