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What Am I? - 2001-08-06

(From AMERICAN MOSAIC, May 16, 1997)

Our VOA listener question this week comes from Lagos, Nigeria.

Leonard Ama read about the animal mascot of Special English in the VOA Guide last year. He wrote to disagree with using a turtle to represent our slow-speed way of speaking. "Turtles live most of their lives in water and are known to be fast swimmers," he said.

The saying "slow and steady wins the race," he noted, is from the story of a race involving a tortoise. The slow and steady tortoise defeated the rabbit -- or the hare, to be exact. So, he said, our mascot should be the tortoise instead of the turtle.

Maybe... Or maybe not. Just what is a tortoise? It is a kind of turtle that lives only on land. More than 40 of the 250 kinds of turtles in the world are tortoises. Tortoises are sometimes called land turtles.

However, tortoises and sea turtles are different. Sea turtles have feet designed for swimming. Their toes are connected. Tortoises' legs are designed for walking. They have short legs and feet. And their toes are not connected.

People may think all land turtles are slow. Many are. Yet some are fast. The World Book encyclopedia says that on flat ground, the smooth softshell turtle of North America can run faster than a person!

It is true that Special English writers do not work in water; our computers and recording equipment would fail. Our job, however, is to use simple words. A tortoise is a turtle, and turtle is a simpler, more common word. So our mascot will remain the turtle.

Seruwu Sulaiman of Mbale, Uganda, also wrote to us about our collection of turtles and tortoises. He says he asked local officials if he could mail us a live turtle in water, and they said yes. We must say no, however. We would have no place to keep a live turtle in our office, but we all thank Seruwu for the kind offer.