It started with a high school girl in Georgia looking up the definition of "laurel" at vocabulary.com. She heard it pronounced as yanny, which seemed rather peculiar. After playing it for some classmates and finding they couldn't agree on what they were hearing, she posted the clip on Instagram and the rest is a week in internet lore. It's "The Dress" ... with words.
Back in 2007, according to a story at Wired, the folks at vocabulary.com hired a bunch of opera singers to record about 200,000 words. Among the approximately 36,000 words records by Jay Aubrey Jones, he was quite amused to find his "laurel" was the cause of an internet sensation -- 11 years after he recorded it.
There's a lot that goes into how you might hear the word pronounced yanny, while I'm hearing laurel. But sum it up to the frequencies you're hearing. And the frequencies emphasized can be affected by your speakers, what your brain expects to hear, and what frequency your brain zeroes in on. It could also be an age test, as younger people are more likely to hear yanny than older people, who will more likely hear laurel. That's because younger people tend to hear higher frequencies better than older people.
Wonder if this whole thing could have been averted if our high school student had simply gone to dictionary.com instead?