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15 Old Words for the Duplicitous That We Should Bring Back

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Duplicitous is a word with an appropriately tricky origin. It was originally a legal term for including two pleas in one, which is a no-no. Much like that origin, many terms for the Iago-like and Loki-ish have been lost in the mists of time (or maybe stolen by some rat-brained, two-hearted turncoat). Consider reviving these words the next time you encounter anyone twistical.


This word is usually a compliment, or at least a neutral description of an impressive talent: being equally skilled with both hands. Maybe because the left hand has often been considered disreputable or even Satanic, the word for this ability took a turn. Laurence Sterne’s A Political Romance, published in 1968, gives this word some slimy ilk, describing “A little, dirty, pimping, pettifogging, ambidextrous fellow.”


This term, around since the early 1800s, can be literal or figurative. A winding road can be called twistical, but so can a lying scumbag. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) definition is deadpan and wonderful: “… not straight or plain in character; morally or mentally tortuous.” An example from David Humphreys’ 1815 book The Yankey in England describes a common problem in sketchy men: “In his dealings with t'other sex, he is a leetle twistical.”


Two-faced is a common term for the untrustworthy (and the inspiration for a Batman villain), and the number two is part of many similar terms. An OED example from some 1649 religious literature goes on a guitar solo of dualities: “Unlesse we have two faces, two tongues, two understandings, two judgements, two consciences, two hearts, two pair of hands, two pair of leggs, two purses, which every honest man hath not, we cannot see how it may be done.”


This term is usually literal, describing trains, snakes, and monsters with two noggins. But it’s sometimes been part of the lexicon of duplicity, much like double-hearted.


The wonderful Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS) records this expression, which ups the ante from two-centric terms for the untrustworthy, suggesting that a rogue or rascal has, like a church clock, no less than four faces. It was recorded in a 1925 collection of sailor slang as a word for “an unreliable man.”


This word for describing anything duplicitous stems from the many sketchy meanings of gammon. Gammon and patter is criminal cant or slang. Gammon and spinach is horsefeathers. Various other meanings involve tricking, wheedling, or seducing someone, so if someone’s being twistical, they’re gammonacious.


Many meanings of twifold simply refer to things that are two-pronged but basically innocent. Other senses refer to double-dealing diabolical denizens of Deceit-ville. Since the 1300s, double all on its own has had more than a numerical meaning, conveying two-facedness and base treachery. In 1715, Gilbert Burnet’s History of My Own Time described a dude who was “very double, or very inconstant.” In 1866’s Felix Holt, the Radical, George Elliot wrote about a tricky situation: “To act with doubleness towards a man whose own conduct was double.” This kind of meaning informs double agent.


With roots in Old German and Old Norse, this is one of the least familiar words for the ever-familiar topic of duplicity. You don’t hear about swikel words, deeds, and creeps anymore, which is too bad. There was a real ring to variations such as swikelness and swikeldom.


Rats are among the least trusted animals, along with the stool pigeon and guttersnake. Since the first half of the 1900s, rat-brained has been a term for the sneaky and prevaricating, as seen in an example from William F. Fowler’s The Battle of 1933, published the following year: “The rat brained, snake-eyed rascals who conceal their rascality under the dignified expression ‘financial genius.’” 


This oddball adjective from the Dictionary of American Regional English is used in a 1938 Atlantic Monthly describing “hookem-snivey capers with public money.”

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]