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America’s newest internet debate: Is it ‘laurel’ or ‘yanny’?

Like "The Dress" debate from a few years back, this odd piece of audio has sparked some spirited exchanges online. Check out the audio, weigh in and get ready to argue with your co-workers for the rest of the week.

WASHINGTON — You’re probably asking yourself: “What topic will annoy me 36–48 hours from now?”

The answer: A debate that is gaining traction on the internet: “Is it ‘yanny’ or ‘laurel'”?

First, listen to this.


What did you hear? What did your co-workers hear? What did your significant other hear? Is it the same? Is it not the same because it is, in fact, different? Does it even matter?

Yes, it apparently matters, because the audio illusion is a very real thing.

The WTOP newsroom was instantly split into spirited factions Tuesday afternoon. And even the Nationals have staked out their position in the debate. This reporter heard “yanny” on a speaker (although it really sounded more like “yarrie” with rolled R’s) then heard a very crisp, clear “laurel” with headphones on.

It’s like that whole hullabaloo a few years back about that dress that was blue, not white.

Science’s know-it-all community has some idea about what the dealio is, of course. According to The Associated Press, the explanation centers more on the quality of the recording and the resonance of speech sounds.

“This is a relatively low-quality signal that is played over a variety of devices, and the sound was developed to be on a perceptual border,” said Todd Ricketts of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Hearing and Speech Sciences Department.

“For example, with a full-range higher quality speaker, I clearly only hear ‘laurel,’ but over my computer speakers, I clearly only hear ‘yanny,’” Ricketts told the AP.

This video helps illustrate how various devices can manipulate what is heard.


WTOP reached out to an obvious authority on the matter — Laurel, Maryland, Mayor Craig Moe — who said he only heard “laurel.” Audrey Barnes, a spokesperson for the city, said she heard “laurel” as well. (Her husband heard “yary.” Go figure.)

And what did new age music superstar Yanni hear? He tweeted the following late Wednesday from his personal jumbo jet, Yanni Force One.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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