By now you've heard the "Laurel recording." Or as some people might think of it, the "Yanny recording."

It's the latest flash in the social media pan; the 2018 equivalent of the gold or blue dress. The science behind it, such as it is, turns out to be pretty simple. 

To my mind, its origin is even more interesting.

We don't know the name of the person who recorded it, because that person's friend, Mark Tinkler, the CTO and cofounder of Vocabulary.com, said he isn't sure that the actual recorder wants to be known (and risk becoming a "viral star"), as he explained to Wired.

But, we do know three things:

First, that computer-sounding voice actually belongs to a Broadway actor who was "a member of the original cast of CATS on Broadway," according to Tinker.

Second, it was recorded in 2007, after Tinker's company "hired a bunch of opera singers to record 200,000 words" that were defined on his website. This same mystery Broadway actor and perhaps opera singer "recorded over 36,000 words for Vocabulary.com, including the word, "audacity," which is Tinker's favorite. 

(Click on the small gray icon of a speaker when you navigate to that link; it is a pretty nice, at least as far as recordings of single words go.)

Finally, there's no doubt: the word is not "yanny," it's "laurel," as evidenced by the fact that it accompanies the Vocabulary.com listing for "laurel." 

The New York Times reports that the recording went viral recently after an 18-year-old high school student in Georgia came across it while working on a school project, and it ultimately wound up on Reddit.

Don't be distracted that the same audio file now also accompanies the listing for the word, "yanny," such as it is, on Vocabulary.com. It's defined it as, "a word or phrase that is capable of distracting the entire internet for at least 24 hours. When you 'drop a yanny,' you start a contentious debate on some type of public forum.

You might already know that the scientific reason for why some people hear the (correct) word, "laurel," while others hear the word "yanny" is a bit up in the air. It likely has to do with the idea that different people's hearing is attuned more accurately to different pitches.

The NYT also created a tool that can accentuate different frequencies in the clip, so if you're one of those people who thinks they're hearing "yanny," you can finally understand why the rest of the world thinks it's "laurel."

Because it is. "Laurel." Definitely. And if you don't hear it, get your ears checked.

Published on: May 17, 2018
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