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The Fascinating Origins of 12 Beautiful Flower Names

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With spring in bloom, let’s stop and smell the etymological roses. Here are the origins behind the names of 12 of the loveliest flowers.

1. ANEMONE

The anemone is also known as the windflower. Indeed, the word anemone, first attested in English in the mid-1500s, probably comes from a Greek word literally meaning “daughter of the wind.” It's said that the brightly colored petals of this flower only opened when the wind blew. Sea anemones took their names in the late 1700s on their likeness to the flowers.

2. AMARYLLIS

In the pastoral poems of Theocritus, Ovid, and Virgil, Amaryllis was a common name for a beautiful country girl. Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, adopted Amaryllis for this flower family in the late 1700s. The name Amaryllis may derive from a Greek verb meaning to “sparkle” or “shine,” fitting for the rich red veins that pop out from the long white petals of these flowers.

3. CARNATION

There are two etymologies for carnation, a term found in English in the early 1500s. According to one, carnation may be a corruption of coronation, perhaps because the flower’s toothed petals resembled crowns or because the flowers were worn, crown-like, as garlands. The second etymology comes from the flower’s original color, and roots carnation in the Middle French carnation, “pink complexion,” from the Latin root caro, “flesh,” source of less delicate words like carnal and carnage.

4. CHRYSANTHEMUM

True to their etymology, chrysanthemums often bloom in striking gold. The word chrysanthemum, emerging in English in the late 1500s, comes from the Greek krysanthemon, meaning “gold flower.” The first component, krysos (“gold”), shows up in the biological term chrysalis. The second, anthos (“flower”), appears, among other words, in anthology, literally “a collection of flowers,” first used for a compilation of small poems in the early 1600s. Chrysanthemums also answer to mums, a shortening evidenced in the history of the word since the late 1800s.

5. DAISY

The word daisy has deep roots in the English language. As attested to in some of English’s earliest records, daisy comes from the Old English phrase dægesege: the “day’s eye,” as the flower’s white petals close at dusk and open at dawn, like the eye of the day as it sleeps and wakes.

6. FORGET-ME-NOT

The name forget-me-not was a direct translation from the Old French ne m’oubliez mye (“do not forget me”). Renaissance romantics believed that, if they wore these soft-colored flowers, they would never be forgotten by their lovers, making the flower a symbol of fidelity and everlasting love. Other languages also translated ne m’oubliez mye: For this flower, German has Vergissmeinnicht, Swedish has förgätmigej, and Czech has nezabudka.

7. LUPINES

The tall, tapering blue clusters of lupines certainly don’t look like their etymology: lupinus, a Latin adjective for “wolf.” So why the fierce name? Perhaps the flowers were once thought to deplete the ground in which they grow, devouring its nutrients like a wolf. This is likely folk etymology, though, as lupines actually enrich the soil and have long been harvested for their nutritious seeds.

8. ORCHID

Orchids are a diverse family of extremely elegant flowers, but the literal meaning of their name, documented in English in the early 1840s, is a bit earthier, shall we say. Orchid comes from the Greek orkhis, meaning “testicle.” The flower's bulbous roots, often paired, have long been thought to resemble those male organs.

9. PEONY

The peony, a word found in Old English, was believed to have healing properties in early medicine, which is why its name might honor Paion, the physician of the gods in Greek mythology. The name Paion might come from a root Greek verb meaning “touch,” hence “one who touches,” hence “heals.” His name also gives us paean, “a song of praise,” as Paion became identified with Apollo, Greek god of music and poetry.

10. RHODODENDRON

Like many other flower names, rhododendron enters the English record in the mid-1500s. The name literally means “rose tree” in Greek (rhodon means and is related to the word “rose”). It’s an apt name, for this shrub or small tree blooms with brilliant, rose-colored flowers. After Latin grafted the word, rhododendron took another path, its rs and ds eventually arranged into the name of another blossoming plant: oleander.

11. TULIP

Contrary to the grade-school groaner, tulip does not come from the fact that the flower can look like two lips kissing. Passing into English via Dutch or German in the late 1500s, tulip actually comes from the Turkish tülbent, based on the Persian dulband: “turban.” The flower, to its ancient namers, resembled the male headwear worn throughout the Middle East, India, and parts of Africa. The word turban also comes from this Persian dulband.

12. VIOLET

Before we had the color violet, recorded by the late 1300s, we had the flower violet, emerging some decades earlier in the same century. Violet grows out of the French violete or violette, a diminutive of viole, in turn the Latin viola, its name for this distinctively purple flower. This viola has no etymological relationship to the instrument. Some scholars suspect Latin got viola from the Greek name for the plant, ion, also with no etymological relationship to the molecule. Greek “floral” ion, though, does show up in chemistry. The name of the element iodine was ultimately coined from the Greek ioeides, “violet-colored,” because the substance emits a violet-colored vapor.

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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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