A Flowery Branch High School freshman did her homework on May 11, and now the resulting video has gone viral and is dividing people online into two camps — “yanny” and “laurel” — and even President Trump has joined in the debate.
Katie Hetzel was studying for her world literature course, doing a spelling test on Vocabulary.com. She was supposed to be spelling the words she heard, but when she heard what was supposed to be the word “laurel,” she was confused. She heard something else.
“I heard ‘yanny,’ and I knew that wasn’t one of the vocab words I was supposed to be learning. I was really confused, so I asked my friend what he thought. ... He told me he heard ‘laurel,’” she said.
After asking family and classmates what they heard when they listened to the recording, she realized it was not just her. Some people heard “laurel,” and others heard “yanny.” She posted a video on her Instagram about the debate.
Just a few days later, on May 15, Hetzel realized she was going viral. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres weighed in on her talk show, and she said the “correct people” should hear “laurel.”
Theories as to why someone hears one word or the other range from the pitch and speed of the recording to a person’s age or ability to speak foreign languages.
Hetzel’s video had been reposted on Reddit, then was discovered by Cloe Feldman, a popular YouTuber who then posted about it herself.
Hetzel’s number of Instagram followers has tripled since the debate began. She said she has been contacted by people around the world who want to talk to her or offer their perspective on what they hear.
Even the White House posted a video with people including Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (she hears “yanny”) and President Donald Trump, who said he hears “covfefe,” referencing a tweet he posted last year that also quickly gained attention online.
The Gainesville Police Department also joined in with a joke on their Facebook page about Laurel Lane, or “Yanny Lane,” in the city.
If DeGeneres gives Hetzel a personal shoutout by Wednesday, May 23, Hetzel’s literature teacher will boost her grade for the class where the controversy began, Hetzel said.
“My whole literature class is going insane,” Hetzel said.
Hetzel has been working with Feldman, the YouTuber who found the video through Reddit, to sell merchandise so people can proudly support their team. Hetzel said the attention has been unexpected, but she is glad she was able to go viral for something positive and funny.
“It’s been a little overwhelming at some points, but overall, I don’t really have anything to complain about,” she said.
Her mother, Michele Hetzel, said she first heard “yanny” but can now also hear “laurel.” She said the Hetzel family has been surprised by the popularity of the video, but they are “taking it in stride.”
“We are floored that this thing has gone viral. We laughed about it last week when we were going through it and had big debates in our house about what we heard, and then it just went crazy from there,” Michele Hetzel said.
Katie Hetzel said she has enjoyed talking to new people as her video has gone viral, and she may want to enter communications as a career field. One thing she has learned from this experience — the internet works at a rapid speed.
“I knew things could spread quickly on the internet, but now I think I really know things can spread,” she said.