WSU tackles seemingly potty-mouthed Minion toy

Potty-mouthed Minion
Potty-mouthed Minion

By Shelby Reynolds
Wichita Eagle intern
July 22, 2015

A befuddled-looking Minion dressed like a caveman has created a stir among parents.

The toy – a yellow, Twinkie-shaped creature 2 inches tall with a tiny bone in its tuft of hair – was distributed in McDonald’s Happy Meals earlier this month to promote “Minions,” the prequel to the “Despicable Me” movies.

Some parents are complaining that one of the Minion’s recorded phrases – spoken in the traditional “Minionese” – includes a curse word: “What the … ?”

In light of the controversy, a group of technology instructors at Wichita State University decided to examine an audio recording of the phrase in slow motion. Their verdict? They are uncertain what’s being said because the quality of the sound is so poor.

“I read an article on Huffington Post about this Minion controversy, and it piqued my interest,” said Caleb Wilson, marketing director for WSU’s Media Resources Center.

He is part of the the Instructional Design and Technology team on campus. The group designs online courses and instructs professors on how to build their own courses. They also create blogs and podcasts to personalize their roles and incorporate instructional design.

And the Minion controversy was a perfect blog topic, Wilson said.

“I was working on a couple different training presentations about topics I know a lot about, but I’m not a teacher,” he said. “I started thinking about communication and how when I say one thing, depending on who hears it, they might hear a different thing.”

Such as how innocent toy-speak can be interpreted as a curse word.

Wilson and the technology team recorded the Minion in question and ran the recording through an audio editing software to slow it down and take a closer look.

“We came to the conclusion that you really can’t tell what’s being said,” Wilson said.

“It remains a little unsure.”

After looking at the visualization of the audio – which show up as ticks and rests, like a heartbeat – it was clear three separate words were being said, Wilson said. Based on the visual, it appears the last word is being exclaimed, much like a curse word would be said.

“If someone were to say the bad phrase that everyone thinks it says,” he said, “it would sort of follow along those same lines.”

Regardless, Wilson said the experiment teaches a lesson in communication. And it gave the team an excuse to play with toys.

“Communication is an interesting thing,” Wilson said in his blog post. “If we’re not clear about what it is we’re saying, writing, teaching, showing … much can be lost in the translation.”

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