On the flight from Heathrow, Steve Woodmore began to feel afraid. A Londoner through and through, he had never been to America. In his hand was the science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. When the plane touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Aug. 7, 1990, the enormity of the occasion hit home. “I was very much alone,” he says. “I was absolutely terrified.” Woodmore was in New York to try to become, once and for all, the world’s fastest talker.
Since it first appeared in The Guinness Book of Records in 1962, the category of world’s fastest talker has been bedeviled by disagreement and scandal. It is difficult to adjudicate, for a start. Do all words count the same? How intelligible does someone need to be? How long should they talk for? Since 2015 Guinness have stipulated that fast-talking applicants recite Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy. In the mid-1990s, Canadian Sean Shannon recited the 260-word speech faster than anyone else, in 23.8 seconds—655 words a minute.
But to other fast talkers, it’s not that simple.
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