Slow or Speedy? 龟速 (Guīsù) and 神速 (Shénsù)?

Chinese General Speed

I’m writing about two simple and useful words in Mandarin Chinese that you can use on a daily basis to describe things that are fast or slow. These terms, “龟速 (guīsù) slow” and “神速 (shénsù) fast”, I learned when reading and discussing Children’s stories in my beginner Mandarin class.
Aesop’s fable of The Tortoise and the Hare is one of the most famous folktales in the world and has been adapted to countless cultures and languages worldwide. The story is a lesson on speed vs. consistency. The hare, or rabbit, represents speed, while the tortoise, or turtle, represents consistency and slowness.
The Tortoise and the Hare was one of the first of many children’s stories that I learned in China while studying Mandarin Chinese. Since I was already familiar with the story in English, I was able to compare the Mandarin version with the English version to better understand the usefulness of the Mandarin Chinese words and the way the two languages can express the same story using completely different methods. Our Mandarin Chinese teacher introduced two antonyms while we discussed the story after reading. These two words have stuck with me from then on. The words were 龟速 (guīsù) and 神速 (shénsù). The origin of the words is simple:
速 (sù) can be used as an adjective meaning “fast” and as a noun meaning “speed.”
龟 (guī) = tortoise or turtle.
When we combine 龟 (guī) and 速 (sù), we get:
龟速 (guīsù) = slow (adjective); slowness (noun).
On the other hand, when we add “神 (shén) god/supernatural being” + “速 (sù) speed” we get 神速 (shénsù), meaning very fast (adjective); quickness (noun).

When using 龟速 (guīsù) and 神速 (shénsù) in a sentence, we can describe how daily conveniences and services may be moving quickly or slowly:
1. 龟速 (guīsù)

Jīntiān de wǎngsù zhēn shì guīsù a!
今天    的   网速     真    是 龟速  啊!
Today the Internet speed is as slow as a turtle.

Jiù nǐ nà guīsù néng gǎn shàng tā?
就 你 那  龟速   能    赶    上   他?
How can you catch up to him at such a slow speed?

2. 神速 (shénsù)

Zhè yào de zhǐtòng xiàoguǒ zhēn shì shénsù.
这    药  的   止痛     效果     真是    神速。
This drug provides rapid relief to the patient.

Zhè cì tánpàn jìnzhǎn shénsù.
这  次   谈判    进展    神速。
The talks went very quickly.

My fellow students and I like to use these to describe situations in our daily lives in China. When we’re shocked at how fast we can have lunch on the street, we say “神速 (shénsù)”! When we’re waiting in an endless line at the train station for a ticket: we can use “龟速 (guīsù)”!
I have found these words to be useful in daily life and also when discussing life in China with my fellow classmates!

HSK 3 quiz

When you’re trying to download a movie on the Internet, but it’s taking a long time, you can use which word to describe the connection:
A. 神速 (shénsù)

B. 网速 (wǎngsù)

C. 龟速 (guīsù)

Further Reading:

丑小鸭 (Chŏu Xiăo Yā) The Ugly Duckling
Chinese story for kids: Why do cats always want to eat mice?

―Written by Philip Reed―

Philip Reed is a Mandarin Chinese student in Beijing. He has been studying for one year in China
and before that had an interest in Chinese at university in the U.S. He loves Chinese music and culture
and can sing a few Mandarin songs at the KTV when he has free time.

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