Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Best In The English-speaking World

Today's Sunday Guardian column.

Announcing the rule change that would make American novelists, among others, eligible for the Man Booker, Ion Trewin, administrator of the prize, said: "The winner of the 2014 prize will be able to say: 'I am the best in the English-speaking world'.”

As I rise to thank you for this honour, there’s just one thing I want to say to all of you gathered here today. I’m the best in the English-speaking world.

When I say that, I refer to all the various forms of English that are prevalent today, from Singlish to Hinglish to Chinglish to Churlish. I’m the best in all of them. All you millions of people out there who speak English, or some form of it, bow down now. I am the best among you. If you have the equivalent of an Iron Throne, I’m ready to sit on it.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say that I mean no disrespect to those who consider themselves the best in the Urdu-speaking world, the Swahili-speaking world, the Cantonese-speaking world or any other world that speaks. Some of the people from these worlds are sterling chaps, and if you’re watching this on TV tonight, there’s one just thing I want to say: I’m the best in the English-speaking worlde

This, my fellow beings among whom I am the best, is a tremendous responsibility. I was never the best in anything earlier, not counting that memorable moment when, as a schoolboy, I was admonished by the principal for being equal to none in passing notes in class. (Mrs Trevelyan, if you’re still out there in front of a TV screen somewhere, I say to you that I am now the best in the English speaking world. And yes, I admit that I’m the one who poured indelible ink on your cat’s tail. You may still be able to discern the smudges.)

Now that this august prize is also open to nationals of the great United States, I must confess here and now that in my next work, I am going to take what some may say are liberties -- but what I claim is a tip of the hat to this change in the rules. Let me explain. I plan to drop all unnecessary ‘u’s – yes, I will henceforth be using words such as humor, clamor and enamor. Proofreaders, take note. I will also henceforth be referring to lifts as elevators, footpaths as pavements and hula hoops as – well, as hula hoops. No one dare correct me. I am the best in the English speaking world.

More champagne, please. Ah, thank you. Let me confess another ambition. Now that I am the best in the English speaking world, I plan to set my sights higher. Not failure but low aim is a crime, as the man said. Who was it? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. What I was going to say, now that I have consumed a magnum or two of this excellent Bollinger, is that I want to be known as the best in other worlds, too. With this in mind, I shall be enrolling in Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Russian and, for good measure, Latin and Sanskrit language classes. My friends, the day is not far when I will be able to stand here before you (more champagne, please) and claim that I am the best in not just the English-speaking world, but in the language-speaking world – whatever that language may be. Klingon-speakers, beware. To you I say: nIteb SuvnIS DevwI'.

But that is still some time in the future. Meanwhile, those of you in the Anglosphere can gaze upon me and know that of all your tribe, I stand unequalled. The flower of centuries of writing. One final word before I step away from this shaky podium and quaff some more of that bubbly. Make that three final words: Buy my book! After all, it was written by the best – ah, I see you know it already. Thank you for this award, judges. I am humbled, most humbled indeed.

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