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

Laurel, Maryland, Mayor Craig Moe isn’t shy about which side he’s on in this great debate. (Courtesy Audrey Barnes) (Courtesy Audrey Barnes)
In this Jan. 28, 2016 photo taken from video, Greek musician Yanni appears during an interview in New York. Yanni, who is currently on tour and has a new album, "Sensuous Chill," will debut a PBS special in March of a recent performance in Egypt at the Great Pyramids of Giza. (AP Photo/Bruce Barton)
WTOP would have reached out to new age music superstar Yanni if it knew his phone number. (AP Photo/Bruce Barton) (AP/Bruce Barton, file)
(1/2)
In this Jan. 28, 2016 photo taken from video, Greek musician Yanni appears during an interview in New York. Yanni, who is currently on tour and has a new album, "Sensuous Chill," will debut a PBS special in March of a recent performance in Egypt at the Great Pyramids of Giza. (AP Photo/Bruce Barton)

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.


Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2018 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up