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The Voice of 'Laurel vs. Yanny' Viral Sensation Speaks: 'It Just Amused Me No End'

Laurel Yanny
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There's no way that 64 year-old actor/singer Jay Aubrey Jones could have known that a throw-away voiceover gig he did a decade ago to help teach people how to pronounce new words would turn into the inescapable "Yanny vs. Laurel" viral sensation. "I thought, well, it couldn't be that huge," Jones told TIME magazine last week in the midst of the fiery debate that has divided families, co-workers and anyone else who just doesn't understand how anyone could hear "Laurel" (seriously, it's Yanny.)

"Then I heard the recording again online and I realized what a brouhaha this whole thing was -- and it just amused me to no end." Jones is a Broadway and television veteran who has done everything from understudying on Cats to bit parts on the Michael J. Fox Show, and random temp jobs in between gig, including one 10 years ago when a colleague at JPMorgan Chase -- where he was temping at the time -- asked if he wanted to work on a project by Vocabulary.com to record about 200,000 standard English words. 

The site's chief technology officer, Marc Tinkler, explained to TIME that the idea was to find speakers familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet, which many singers use as a reference when learning to sing operas in a foreign language. That's why in 2007 the site put out a call looking for a half dozen trained vocal artists to work on the six-month project, with Jones landing a gig thanks to his his knowledge of IPA from his stint studying drama at Syracuse University. What did the team want him to pronounce? "Laurel," of course, referring to "a wreath worn on the head, usually as a symbol of victory."

It was just one of around 36,000 words Jones recorded for the site. But how did it turn into the annoying/fascinating meme that spawned 1,000 late night jokes? A student using Vocabulary.com to study words earlier this month was confused when clicking "laurel" produced a sound she heard as "yanny," so she recorded the recording and posted it to see what other people thought. 

“That’s what makes me laugh about this,” Jones said of the massive back-and-forth over the two silly words. “I’m intrigued and I wish I could sit people down and ask: ‘Why, with all the things that are going on in the world right now?'” For the record, Jones is Team Laurel. 

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