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13 Regional Insults to Offend People Across the U.S.

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“I had to take an Ohio shower,” Kimmy Schmidt admitted on a recent episode of her titular series. “Using our disinfectant toilet wipes.” While this Ohioan put-down was most likely made up for the show, Americans certainly don’t lack insults for people in other states or cities. We've teamed up with the editors of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) to bring you 13 of the most insulting regional slights, snubs, and terms of contempt.

1. ARKANSAS ASPHALT

Like Rodney Dangerfield, Arkansas gets no respect, at least in terms of regional insults. In the 1960s and earlier, Texas oilmen apparently “found conditions in Arkansas particularly primitive,” according to a quote in DARE, and referred to roads made of logs laid side by side as Arkansas asphalt. Another ironic Texas term is Arkansas dew, meaning a sudden heavy rain (check out even more regional idioms for heavy rain here). In Oklahoma, diarrhea might be known as Arkansas travels, while in Southern California, an Arkansas fire extinguisher is a chamberpot.

2. ARIZONA PAINT JOB

Another SoCal term, an Arizona paint job means no paint at all. The term is used to “describe an unpainted, weathered pine building,” according to a 1962 article in Western Folklore, as might be found in the Arizona desert. Back in the day, though, it was thought that the dry weather was good for something—namely, tuberculosis. Hence, the Southwest term Arizona tenor for a coughing TB sufferer.

3. GEORGIA BACON

If you’re in south Georgia and someone offers you Georgia bacon, you might want to think twice: They’re talking about gopher, and when they say gopher, they're talking about tortoise, specifically a burrowing land tortoise of the genus Gopherus polyphemus, common in the southern U.S.

According to the 1952 Handbook of Turtles, the gopher tortoise played a large part “in the lives of the poorer rural people of Florida and south Georgia.” In those parts of Florida, the gopher might be referred to as the Florida chicken due to its chicken-like taste.

Gopher, by the way, is also the nickname for people from Arkansas, Minnesota, and Florida, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

4. CAPE COD TURKEY

In New England, Cape Cod turkey is a jocular name for the codfish or a fish dinner. In Maine, Alaska turkey is salmon, while in New York, the historical term Albany beef refers to sturgeon, due to “the former abundance of sturgeon near Albany NY," according to DARE.

5. VIRGINIA CAVIAR

You might hear beans or peas referred to as Virginia caviar in Virginia and Georgia. The delicious-sounding Virginia caviar salad is a combination of “black-eyed peas, sweet peppers, red onion, and diced tomatoes with a sweet and sour vinaigrette” and fresh cilantro.

6. KENTUCKY BREAKFAST

The Kentucky breakfast is the most important meal of the day—if you're a pre-enlightened Don Draper, that is. In Arizona, Maryland, and North Carolina, the ironic term refers to a “meal” that includes or consists of liquor, in most cases bourbon. As Stewart Edward White put in the 1907 book Arizona Nights, “A Kentucky breakfast is a three-pound steak, a bottle of whisky, and a setter dog. What’s the dog for? Why, to eat the steak, of course."

7. DALLAS SPECIAL

Got a pocketknife with a blade longer than the legal limit? That’s called a Dallas special in Texas, where the legal limit for a blade length is 5.5 inches. In Tennessee, southern California, and Arkansas, a large bowie knife might be called an Arkansas toothpick, while in West Virginia, a bullet is a Kentucky pill, in reference “to Kentuckians’ reputation as sharpshooters,” according to DARE.

8. TEXAS TIME

Unlike a New York minute, Texas time is leisurely and unhurried. Hawaiian time is a jocular but sometimes derogatory term a flexible system of time or a disregard for punctuality. Alaska time is “an hour or two early or an hour or two late,” at least in Alaska, and “maybe more depending on the weather.”

9. BOSTON SCREWDRIVER

A Boston screwdriver isn’t a Beantown take on vodka and orange juice—it’s a Massachusetts nickname for a hammer. According to a quote from 1969 recorded by DARE, “Big-city workmen in Boston do a quick, cheap job by driving a screw all or most of the way in with a hammer instead of using a screwdriver.”

10. MASSHOLE

While Masshole doesn’t appear in DARE, we couldn’t not include it on a list of regional insults. This term of contempt for someone from Massachusetts was added to the OED in June 2015 with its earliest citation from 1989: “The New Hampshire people have a nickname for the refugees from Massachusetts: Massholes.” The word of course is a blend of Massachusetts and a**hole.

11. MAINIAC

While Masshole is a new term, Mainiac or Maine-iac, a resident of Maine, is a relatively old one. Used in New England, DARE’s earliest citation is from a 1837 quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne: “The British have lately imprisoned a man who was sent to take the census; and the Mainiacs are much excited on the subject.”

12. HOBOKEN

A now-popular bedroom community outside New York City, Hoboken was once a jocular or derogatory name for a place that was out-of-the-way, insignificant, or imaginary. As H.L. Mencken wrote in the 1936 edition of American Language, “For many years Hoboken was the joke-town of New York.” Hoboken was also used in New York and Massachusetts as a euphemistic stand-in for “Hell.”

13. HOLLER NEW YORK

While you probably know a Bronx cheer is a nickname for a raspberry, you might not know that to holler New York means to vomit. This might be less of a jab at New York and more of a play on york, an idiom used in the Great Lakes region and Pennsylvania meaning to throw up.

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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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