Communication is an interesting thing. If we’re not clear about what it is we’re saying, writing, teaching, showing, etc. much can be lost in the translation.
My intention isn’t to sneak in foul language for foul language’s sake, but when I read about the controversy surrounding a toy being given to children in McDonald’s Happy Meals, I had to stop everything I was doing and get to the bottom of it.
A little background:
In 2010, Universal Pictures released a movie titled “Despicable Me,” a story told from the perspective of a villain trying to shrink and steal the moon. But that’s not important, our protagonist needed help to carry out his plan. For that, he relies on tiny yellow creatures, called Minions.
Minions are goofy, yellow, Twinkie-shaped characters whose sole purpose in life is to serve the most despicable villain. They’re cute, clumsy, and very entertaining. Part of their charm is that they don’t speak English. They speak something called “Minionese,” a sloppily cobbled together language made of random sounds, grunts, and words pulled in from other established languages.
These characters were so popular that, after “Despicable Me 2” came to fruition, a prequel, titled “Minions” was created, bringing our lovable, villainous creatures into the spotlight.
Okay, caught up? Good.
McDonald’s secured the rights to put “Minions” toys in their Happy Meals, and our story starts when many parents were shocked to hear one of the toys (the Caveman Minion) shout, “WTF!?” (Except, the unabbreviated version.)
Parents called and wrote in. They contacted not only McDonald’s, but news outlets and friends via social media. People uploaded videos to YouTube showing the toy in action. McDonald’s announced that the toys are merely speaking “Minionese” and the sound is just gibberish.
That’s when I got excited. I had to hear it for myself. I called 3 separate McDonald’s locations near my house. Though confused, they were very helpful. Admittedly, I was a little embarrassed when the final restaurant’s employees had to dig through a huge box of yellow figures to find this specific Caveman Minion for a 30 year-old man with no children in tow. There was one left.
Upon receiving the Happy Meal, I didn’t even leave the parking lot before pulling over, unwrapping the toy, and tapping it to hear the sound that caused so much anger among parents…
this is what I heard:
…I laughed. Though, I couldn’t say for sure it actually said what I thought it said.
I was a bit disappointed, though I still thought it was worth showing my friends and coworkers. Judging based on people’s reactions, I think others felt the same way. It really only sounds a little like the toy is saying something naughty, but it’s still mumbly enough to where one could never say for sure.
Why hadn’t anyone thought of it before? We record a podcast, we have high quality microphones and editing equipment. We’ll record the Minion, then slow down the audio to clarify once and for all, what is being said!
So we did.
Are you ready for the results?
Here’s the same audio from above, played four times slower than normal:
I still was not entirely happy with the results. The audio quality coming out of the toy is so poor that it’s hard to slow it down this much and hear anything worthwhile.
So we tried playing it at only twice as slow as normal:
Still not very clear. I don’t think these upset parents have a leg to stand on if they want to pursue any sort of legal action.
However, especially when we look at the visualization of the audio, it’s clear that three words are being said. The first sound does sound like a “W” and the last word seems to begin with an “F.” The phrase is being exclaimed, which sounds like how someone who is saying “the phrase that shall not be named” would say it.
I also feel like most people wouldn’t be surprised to hear a news story about a worker who was unhappy or trying to be funny and hid inappropriate language in a children’s toy.
Or maybe it is just gibberish.
Maybe we’re hearing what we want to hear.
I will assume it is McDonald’s intention to communicate something entertaining to children, but perhaps the parents who hear something inappropriate in this toy have only understood a preconceived idea that the fast food chain cares little, if at all, about the well being of the kids they serve. Other adults who hear “wtf” may have only comprehended something that breaks the standard, and is slightly amused by it. There are a million different versions and variations on how this simple miscommunication became the story of the week.
Then I got to thinking… are there things I’m saying that are getting lost on the way to my intended audience? Am I considering them when creating a Powerpoint slide, Facebook promotion, or blog post?
As you prepare to communicate an idea at your next presentation, interview, or networking event, what are people hearing from you? What are you hearing from others?
What are ways we can foolproof ourselves against miscommunication?
Hit me up on Twitter (@CalebKWilson or @WichitaStateIDT) if you have a great answer or a resource that digs deeper into this topic. I’d love to hear what you come up with!!!