The strange noise you’re hearing during today’s World Cup games (and for the rest of the tournament, presumably) is the sound of thousands of vuvuzelas. But what, pray tell, is a vuvuzela?

A vuvuzela is a long plastic horn popular with South African soccer fans, who blow them en masse during games. Played by producing a ‘raspberry’ sound with your lips, the vuvuzelas’ sound has been compared to an elephant’s trumpet, a dying goat and a car going over rumble strips.

The horns first came into fashion in the mid-1990s, but their origin is unclear.

FIFA originally considered banning the vuvuzelas in the run-up to the World Cup, after scientists warned of hearing damage among the spectators and both players and announcers expressed fears they would drowned out by the trumpets’ drone. South African officials eventually convinced FIFA to drop the proposed ban, arguing that they were an essential part of the South African soccer experience. (Vuvuzelas longer than 1 meter remain off-limits.)
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