The latest big thing on the Internet is a mystifying sound clip
By Katrina Caruso
In 2015, “The Dress” went viral on the Internet, with some people seeing a blue and black dress, while others saw a yellow and gold dress. This year, a sound clip has been causing a similar stir. Some hear “Laurel,” while others hear “Yanny.”
The original clip, recorded in 2007 for Vocabulary.com, was voiced by Jay Aubrey Jones, a 64-year-old Broadway performer trained in pronunciation and an original cast member of the musical Cats. In the clip, Jones was saying the word “laurel,” as in a wreath symbolizing victory. It was one of more than 36,000 words he was asked to record.
So why do some people hear “Yanny”?
According to some experts, the reason is that the clip contains a number of frequencies. What you hear depends on what ranges of frequencies you can hear and which your brain is prioritizing. It’s not unusual for our brains to consider one sound more important than another; in fact, it’s biological: mothers can hear their babies cry in a busy store, for example.
What’s more, how you’re listening—the quality of the speakers in your computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet, for example—can affect how you hear the word, so that the same person might hear one word today and the other tomorrow.
The clip was initially made popular after a US high-school student, Katie Hetzel, from Georgia searched for the word “laurel” online while doing a project and came upon Jones’s recording. She couldn’t hear “Laurel”; she could hear only “Yanny.” She posted about this phenomena on Instagram, and from there, the post went viral, being shared by popular Instagrammers, and then ending up on Reddit.