Cus­tomers claim­ing toy Min­ion spout­ing curse words

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

McDon­ald's swears up and down that the lit­tle yel­low “Minions” Happy Meal toy is speak­ing only non­sense words and not some­thing a lit­tle more adult.

Ex­perts say the com­pany may be right, and the curse words many hear may be tied to how our brains are primed to find words even when they're not re­ally there.

The world's largest ham­burger chain and pur­veyor of Happy Meals said Fri­day that it doesn't plan to take the talk­ing Happy Meal toy out of dis­tri­bu­tion, even though some cus­tomers say it sounds like it's curs­ing.

A toy bought by The As­so­ci­ated Press made a sound that could be in­ter­preted as the phrase of­ten ab­bre­vi­ated as “WTF.” Another phrase sounded like it could be “Well I'll be damned.” The sound qual­ity of the toy makes it hard to say defini­tively who is right.

The lit­tle yel­low Min­ion char­ac­ters speak a non­sense lan­guage and McDon­ald's Corp. said the Min­ion Cave­man toy makes three sounds - “ha ha ha,” ”para la bukay,“and ”eh eh.“The Oak Brook, Illi­nois­com­pany is­sued a state­ment say­ing it re­ceived only a few com­ments from cus­tomers about the toy, which was in­tro­duced July 3.

Non­sense speech will some­times sound a bit like a real lan­guage, and ex­perts say hu­man brains are also wired to look for mean­ing in noise and im­ages. So peo­ple will some­times hear words in gib­ber­ish - in­clud­ing words they might think are in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

“The brain tries to find a pat­tern match, even when just re­ceiv­ing noise, and it is good at pat­tern recog­ni­tion,” says Dr. Steven Novella, a neu­rol­o­gist at the Yale School of Medicine. “Once the brain feels it has found a best match, then that is what you hear.

The clar­ity of the speech ac­tu­ally in­creases with mul­ti­ple ex­po­sures, or if you are primed by be­ing told what to lis­ten for” - as most peo­ple who heard the toy online al­ready had been.

The tech­ni­cal name for the phe­nom­e­non is “parei­do­lia,” hear­ing sounds or see­ing im­ages that seem mean­ing­ful but are ac­tu­ally ran­dom. It leads peo­ple to see shapes in clouds, a man in the moon or the face of Je­sus on a grilled cheese sand­wich.

The au­dio form of parei­do­lia has been caus­ing con­fu­sion for years and years. In the 1960s the FBI in­ves­ti­gated The Kings­men's ver­sion of the song “Louie Louie” af­ter con­cerned cit­i­zens com­plained that the lyrics were ob­scene. The band de­nied it, but hardly any­body could fig­ure out the lyrics, in­clud­ing the FBI. The agency of­fi­cially de­clared the words un­in­tel­li­gi­ble.

A sim­i­lar phe­nom­e­non could have con­trib­uted to the belief that rock bands would put mes­sages in their mu­sic that could only be heard by play­ing a record or run­ning a tape back­ward.

That con­trib­uted to the “Paul Is Dead” con­spir­acy the­ory - in which the Bea­tles were sup­pos­edly cov­er­ing up the death and re­place­ment of Paul McCart­ney, but were con­stantly drop­ping hints about the coverup in their songs - and law­suits against heavy me­tal bands.

Last year a group of re­searchers pub­lished a pa­per called “See­ing Je­sus in toast: neu­ral and be­havioural cor­re­lates of face parei­do­lia.” They wanted to un­der­stand what hap­pens in the brains of peo­ple who see a face pop out of the toaster, and they re­ceived an Ig No­bel Prize, given to sci­en­tists who do un­usual, imag­i­na­tive or odd work of ques­tion­able im­por­tance.

The McDon­ald's pro­mo­tion is sched­uled to run through the end of July. The film “Minions,” a pre­quel to the “De­spi­ca­ble Me” movies, pre­mieres Fri­day. Some movie­go­ers will prob­a­bly be lis­ten­ing in­tently to the Minions' di­a­logue.

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