A 1980 Federal Express fast-talking ad that was named commercial of the decade by Adweek brought instant fame to John Moschitta Jr., otherwise known as "Mighty Mouth." The 1991 Guinness Book of World Records lists him as the fastest talker in the world at 586 words a minute.
The average person only speaks between 100 and 125 words per minute.The man who is so well known for his verbal velocity was in Salt Lake City last week for a MasterCard-Arby's promotional stop at the Arby's restaurant in Murray. Challengers who could defeat Moschitta at his own game - reading a 120-word script in about 15 seconds - were offered a $1,000 prize courtesy of MasterCard.
It didn't seem likely to me that there could be any winners - until I talked with Moschitta and found that he thought it was possible.
He said he taught himself to talk fast when he was 12. He's 37 now, and he's been making a living at it for 11 years.
It all began at a charity fair at Coney Island when Moschitta decided to try to break a Guinness world record for roller coaster riding. Park officials had other ideas. "You're 12 years old. We're not going to let you strap yourself into the Cyclone for two weeks straight!"
Moschitta decided against swallowing a lead pipe, so the next best thing was the fast-talking record. "I had five sisters, so I had a little bit of a head start."
Bell Laboratories has been wanting to test him for years to try to draw some correlations between intelligence level and fast-talking.
"They find that most people can speak between nine and 11 words at an accelerated rate before their speech machinery begins to malfunction. They don't know why I can speak for long periods of time at an accelerated speed without short circuiting my brain."
But Moschitta thinks many people can do it - "Maybe not 586 words a minute! If it was four times that length, nobody could keep up with me. But I'm only getting speed at 15 seconds. I'm only at between six and eight words a second at 15 seconds, and for speed you've got to get up to between 12 and 14 words a second.
"So if it was a much longer speech people would have no hope of beating me. But I think that there will be people who will come very close to this - because if it's done at 15 seconds, it's eight words a second. If it's done in 17 seconds, it's seven words a second. If it's done in 20 seconds, it's six words a second. That's still pretty fast. It's much faster than normal people speak. It'll be interesting. The key to this contest will be clarity and not mispronouncing or missing words."
Moschitta said that normally it takes him 15 to 17 seconds to read a paragraph. "I hope it's closer to 15 seconds, because the faster I do it, the more likely it is that I'm going to be beaten. But the money's not coming out of my pocket, so I'll do it as fast as I can. But if I go a little slow and someone beats me, it's MasterCard's promotion, and they're going to pay the $1,000 to anyone that beats me."
There were only seven contestants brave enough to challenge him, and Camille Holt, a school teacher from Layton, who spent the past nine years in Kuwait, beat him. Her time was 15.73 seconds compared to Moschitta's 16 seconds. She plans to buy a stereo with the $1,000.
Moschitta actually fluffed a word that cost him the extra second. Holt was ecstatic and Moschitta, entirely gracious, hugged her and congratulated her - very fast.
If this loss makes MasterCard promotionals more popular in the other four cities left on the tour, it may also inspire more challengers to the Guinness record. Last August during a live challenge on "Good Morning America," the tapes proved inconclusive on an excerpt from a 17th-century novel - "a very wierd passage" that kept the speed to the 400s.
"Your brain had to slow down that extra little bit to be able to read it," said Moschitta.
So there will be a rematch soon.
But no matter who tries it, Moschitta will be hard to beat, especially if he has a good night's sleep and none of the Doubletree Hotel's irresistible chocolate chip cookies under his belt.