Original image
Getty Images / iStock

16 Expletives We Should Definitely Bring Back

Original image
Getty Images / iStock

Some words are just perfect for shouting out in exasperation. These oldies will make you feel better the moment they pass your lips.


This one got a little play in the 18th century as a minced oath—a swear that was modified to avoid being offensive. It’s a further mincing of zounds, which was itself a mincing of “his wounds,” as in Christ’s. Keep it handy in case you stub your toe in church.

2. OONS!

If zoonters is pushing it too close to the edge of blasphemy, just cut it down by a few more sounds. Oons was another minced oath formed off zounds.


Much in the way that familiar forms like dagnabbit and doggone are ways to avoid saying God damn it! and God damned!, dodgast takes on the burden of God blast it! and makes it safe for children.

4. ADOD!

Yet another obsolete way to get the satisfaction of a swear without the taking of the Lord’s name in vain, this minced oath from the 17th century stands in for oh God. Its sibling egad! survived longer.


This one is a creative mashup of Christ! and heavens! It’s put to good use in this line from the 1935 book Shipbuilders: “Holy crivens, I nearly broke my flakin’ back.”


Once you go a little bit out of your way to avoid some blasphemy, no reason not to keep going even further. The exclamation I snore! was an early American way to avoid even saying the word swear. In 1790, the Massachusetts Spy reported that “in one village you will hear the phrase ‘I snore,’—in another, ‘I swowgar.’”


If snore or swowgar isn’t far enough from offensive for you, there’s also snum. Snum came from vum, which itself came from vow


Not to be confused with beer lady!, this one was formed from “by our lady.”


You’ve probably heard of drat! And rats! They started as God rot!, but before that, it was rendered as rabbit—as in “Rabbit the fellow!” from Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews.


There’s only one citation for this one in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it’s a good one, from 1790: “But what the rattle makes you look so tarnation glum?”


This 16th century exclamation could show up as bones of me! or bones of you! The bones are the part of the body with the most staying power after death, so the expression has a force akin to “over my dead body” without the “don’t you dare” part.


In addition to good God! And good heavens! There was good lack! Related to alack! and a sense of lack meaning fault or moral failing. It was used to express dismay at a state of affairs.


An exclamation of shock and surprise, it’s probably from the phrase Lord defend thee. It also showed up as lockanties, lockintee, and lokins in Scotland.


Another expression of surprise, it might be related to mighty. Other forms were megsty, maiginty, and megginstie, or meggins for short.


This one probably started with Lord Foppington, a character in the 1697 comedy Relapse, who had a problem with pronouncing o as a.


An obsolete exhortation to drink, this was a jokey combination of Latin and German. There was a German phrase auf den Nagel trinken or “drink to the nail,” meaning “drain your glass to the last drop.” Naculum was a play on what Nagel would sound like in Latin. Add super- or “over” to it and you’ve got supernaculum, which you can cry out as you turn your glass over to show you’ve chugged it all.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
Original image

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]