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March 24, 2019

The “Yanny” or “Laurel” Debate Was Started by a High School Freshman Who Got the Audio Off Vocabulary.com

There’s been a heated debate the last couple days over an audio clip of a SINGLE WORD.  Some people think the voice is saying “laurel,” and other people hear it as “yanny.”



Now we have some context on how the whole thing got started . . . and a definitive answer on which one is correct.



It turns out a high school freshman in Georgia named Katie Hetzel got the debate going last Friday while she was studying for a literature class.  One of the vocabulary words she needed to look up was “laurel.”



So she looked up the definition on the website Vocabulary.com . . . played a clip of how to pronounce it . . . and THAT’S where the audio came from.



So if “laurel” is what you hear, you’re technically correct.



Katie DIDN’T hear “laurel” though, she heard “yanny.”  Then she played it for some of her classmates, and they couldn’t agree.



So she posted it on Instagram . . . other people started re-posting it . . . and that’s how it all got started.



A lot of people assumed it was a computer voice.  But it’s actually the voice of an OPERA singer that Vocabulary.com hired back in 2007 to pronounce a bunch of words for them.  He was also in the original Broadway production of “Cats”.



In case you haven’t heard the explanation yet, here you go . . .



The reason some people hear “yanny” instead of “laurel” has to do with how the audio was recorded . . . how your speakers play it back . . . what you’re EXPECTING to hear . . . and which frequencies your brain zeroes in on.



Younger people tend to hear higher frequencies better than older people do.  So young people are more likely to hear it as “yanny” instead of “laurel.”


About The Author

Andy has worked in broadcasting around Western North Carolina over the last 17 years. He serves as the Operations Manager and Program Director for WRGC and WBHN. “I’ve been with the crew here at Five Forty Broadcasting since the idea of bringing the station back to Jackson County at 540-AM. I feel a personal connection with community radio and the area”. In the past, Andy has worked with iHeart Media and Sky Country Broadcasting. He resides in Haywood County.

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