Weekly Word Watch: Yanny or Laurel, gammon, and Megharryccino
We present you another theme in this week’s Word Watch: language in conflict. Do you hear Yanny or Laurel? Is gammon racist or just an insult? If all this quarreling stresses you out, don’t worry, for we’ll bring everyone together in the end.
Yanny or Laurel
In case you haven’t heard by now, a viral audio clip divided the internet this week on whether it sounded like Yanny or Laurel.
What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel pic.twitter.com/jvHhCbMc8I
— Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018
With the help of spectrograms, experts have shown that the audio file is a noisy mix of frequencies. Tuning into the higher ones favors Yanny and the lower ones Laurel, causing the auditory illusion, or earllusion as one linguist playfully blended.
In Wired, Louise Matsakis traced the Yanny or Laurel phenomenon from a 2007 recording by an opera singer to the social media sensation of 2018 – and all because one curious teenager looked up the meaning of laurel, an ancient victory crown made from bay leaves from the Latin word laurus, on Vocabulary.com while studying for a class.
That fact absolutely delights us here, as does the way we’re talking about Yanny or Laurel.
Many are calling it ‘the dress of 2018’ or, more synaesthetically, ‘the auditory dress’, referring to the 2015 viral photograph that had us rubbing our eyes over whether a dress was black and blue or white and gold. Perhaps these allusions stand to position the dress as a shorthand for ‘viral illusions’, a phenomenon that we didn’t know we needed a term for before Reddit and Instagram.
The debate also has us taking sides – and flexing our grammar to do so, with people who hear Yanny dubbed Yannies and Laurel, Laurels.
The year is 2028. The earth is scorched, desolate. Only two factions of humanity remain, locked in eternal conflict; the Yannies and the Laurels.
In hushed awe, their elders speak of ‘a time before the blue dress’.
— Ryan Sampson (@MrRyanSampson) May 17, 2018
And oh, for the record, it’s Yanny and #TheDressIsBlue.
Another word has been stirring heated debate on social media, or at least its UK political corners: gammon.
Gammon is a cut or preparation of cured ham, whose pink and fleshy appearance and culinary datedness some left-wingers have likened to older, white male Brexiteers who become red in the face with anger on topics like immigration.
Gammon : the bottom piece of a side of bacon, including a hind leg.
Also (recently) slang : Middle aged red-faced white male, usually ranting about Brexit, immigrants and political correctness gone mad. (origin : 2017 BBC) pic.twitter.com/BNZ3Bro0NZ
— Tattooed Mummy (@tattooed_mummy) May 14, 2018
According to the BBC, the insult took off in 2017, boosted by one Ben Davis, who described contributors on its programme Question Time as a ‘wall of gammon’. Another tweeter used ‘gammon face’ to deride a Tory-partier on the same programme in 2016.
The epithet, at least as the HuffPost tracked it down, previously mocked the Great British Bake Off’s Paul Hollywood in 2015. However, the Oxford English Dictionary finds gammon-faced in a memorable line from John Marston’s 1604 play The Malcontent: ‘The sallo-westfalian gamon-faced zaza cries stand out’. The Jacobeans could out-Twitter Twitter.
This week, Northern Irish MP Emma Little-Pengelly implied gammon was a racial slur on Twitter, spurring an op-ed in The Times also denouncing the term.
I'm appalled by the term "gammon" now frequently entering the lexicon of so many (mainly on the left) & seemingly be accepted. This is a term based on skin colour & age – stereotyping by colour or age is wrong no matter what race, age or community. It is just wrong
— E Little-Pengelly MP (@little_pengelly) May 13, 2018
Mr Davis, in response to the controversy, expressed his regret over the meanness of gammon and the part his tweet play in its political weaponisation. But he doesn’t deem it racist.
’No one has ever found “Gammons Go Home” daubed across their front door’, Davis wrote for The Independent. ‘There were never segregated schools for gammon children. And the fact that many of the commentators claiming to be so offended by the term routinely call millennials “Generation Snowflake” is delicious’.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, former spokesperson for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, thought he put the debate to rest earlier this year in The Huck with his more snarky defence of gammon. We’ve heard from Zarb-Cousin before. He helped define another left-leaning barb for the Word Watch: centrist dad.
The gammon row raises interesting, difficult, and important questions about what constitutes racist language. Gammon does target a group of people based on race, age, and class, which technically makes it a slur as broadly defined – and yet to take offence to it as a racial slur, as Davis suggests, minimizes the historic power and privilege the group has enjoyed at the expense of others.
We’re not going to settle the matter here, but the dispute continues to highlight a trend we see here on the Word Watch week after week, from theyby to mixed-weight: the politics of identity, and our sensitivity to its changing language, is a defining topic of our time.
With all this conflict, why don’t we end with something we can all agree on? Portmanteau-shaming.
In conjunction with Lavazza, Heidi’s bakery in Windsor opened a pop-up café ahead of the much-hyped (and merchandised) wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, selling a specialty coffee drink with the royal couple designed into its foam.
But it’s not the impressive latte art that’s getting our attention. It’s the name: Megharryccino.
We’re no stranger to -ccino-blended words on the Word Watch, having highlighted the baby-friendly coffee drink, the babyccino. But Megharry? That’s an odd brew.
The baristas apparently seized on the H of Meghan and Harry for its hinge, but it isn’t exactly the most graceful of lexical concoctions to mark such an elegant occasion. Are we supposed to voice that H and pronounce the syllables separately like Meg-Harry or roll it into one like Megarry, rhyming with Gregory? Not that Harkleccino would be any less of a mouthful…
That’s the game, though, we suspect – we hope. Heidi, as with Virgin Train’s avocard this March and crossushi late last year, seems to know an outrageous blend word, no matter how ill-formed, will bring attention to a brand. Any portmanteau isn’t a good portmanteau, but all press is good press, as they say.
Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve some Laurelyannyccinos to sell. It’s pronounced Yannylaurelccino, by the way.