The True History of ‘Yanny’ and ‘Laurel’

If you somehow haven’t already over the last few days, listen to this audio recording right now. What do you hear? Is the person telling “Yanny” or “Laurel”? If you heard the second answer, you’re technically correct. But more importantly: Here’s the backstory of where the audio clip came from–and how it went viral–down to the person who recorded it.

There are a few partial explanations for how Yanny and Laurel became 2018′ s version of “the dress, ” which similarly tore the internet apart three years ago. The now-infamous audio recording itself originated on the resource website, under the entry for “laurel, ” defined as a “wreath worn on the head, usually as a emblem of victory.” And a number of publishings have traced the meme back to Reddit, where the user RolandCamry posted it to the subreddit r/ blackmagicfuckery, a forum for discussing unbelievable natural phenomena. The meme was then picked up on Twitter by Cloe Feldman, a popular YouTuber with over 610,000 subscribers.

But Yanny and Laurel didn’t actually start on Reddit. Like any good meme, it started with teens.

On May 11, Katie Hetzel, a freshman at Flowery Branch High School in Georgia, was studying for her world literature class, where “laurel” was one of her vocabulary terms. She seemed it up on and played the audio. Instead of the word in front of her, she heard “yanny.”

“I asked my friends in my class and we all heard mixed things, ” tells Hetzel. She then posted the audio clip to her Instagram story. Soon, a senior at the same school, Fernando Castro, republished the clip to his Instagram story as a poll. “She recorded it and set it on her story then I remade the video and posted it, ” Castro tells. “Katie and I have been going back and forth and we both agree that we had equal credit on it.”

Reddit user RolandCamry, a friend of Castro’s, says he then took the video from Castro’s Instagram and posted it to r/ blackmagicfuckery. “I originally insured it on an Instagram story, ” tells RolandCamry. “From there I put it on Reddit.”

That explains how Laurel and Yanny went viral. But where did the audio clip actually come from? While many have speculated that it was computer-generated, the reading was actually recorded by an opera singer in New York in December of 2007.

“It’s an incredible story, it is a person, he is a member of the original casting of Cats on Broadway, ” tells Marc Tinkler, the CTO and cofounder of He says that when the site first launched, they wanted to find individuals who had strong pronunciation, and could read words written in the international phonetic alphabet, a standardized representation of sounds in any spoken language. Many opera singers know how to read IPA, because they have to sing in languages they don’t speak.

“We hired a bunch of opera singers to record 200,000 words, basically, ” tells Tinkler. He didn’t want to uncover the pronouncer’s name, since he doesn’t know if they’re comfortable potentially becoming a viral star. The person or persons recorded more than 36,000 words for, according to Tinkler. He added that his favorite word spoken by the same person is “audacity.”

Tinkler says he doesn’t know exactly why people hear different things when they listen to the recording, but that it might have to do with the fact that the word is said without any other context, meaning it’s not part of a full sentence. “We set[ the singers] up with laptops with really great microphones in a DIY sound booth. They would just sit here and a word would appear on the screen and they would say it. They did this thousands of times.”

‘We hired a bunch of opera singers to record 200,000 words, basically.’

Marc Tinkler,

Thankfully, scientists have an explanation for why people hear different things when they listen to the recording. A number of academics chimed in to explain the phenomenon on Twitter. They said that the clip is an “ambiguous figure, ” or as one auditory neuroscientist explained it to The Verge1, the audio version of “Rubin’s Vase, ” an optical illusion where two people’s profiles can also be seen as a bloom vase. In other terms, it’s an optical illusion, except for your ears. There’s not really a correct answer either way. The reason that the recording is so contested is likely because it’s noisy, meaning there are lots of different frequencies captured. What you hear depends on which frequencies your brain emphasizes.

The higher frequency audios in the recording construct people hear “Yanny, ” whereas the lower frequencies cause others to swear they hear “Laurel.” What you hear depends on what sounds your brain is paying attention to, your past experiences, and what you’re expecting to hear. What word you experience might also have to do with your age. Older adults often start losing their hearing within the higher-frequency range, meaning it’s possible that more young people hear “Yanny.”

There are also other, technical explains. For instance, what you hear might have to do with your speakers, your headphones, or the acoustics in the room. “The main reason( I suspect) people hear this differently is because different headphones and speakers filter the frequencies of the audio in different ways, ” tweeted Dana Boebinger, a PhD student at Harvard and MIT examining auditory perception, in a thread breaking down the illusion. There’s also what platform you heard it on first–the differences in the audio could have something do with how Twitter or Instagram compress video files.

So that explains where Laurel versus Yanny really came from, and why people hear different words when they listen to the clip. And if you’re wondering, yes, “laurel” is now the more popular entry on

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