In my previous column entitled, “One Small Step”, I quoted Neil Armstrong as saying, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The first moon landing is one of those moments in history that if you witnessed it, you remember exactly where you were when it occurred. I was 11 years old when Apollo 11 journeyed to the moon, and yes, I remember watching it live on television.
One of my devoted readers who also remembers watching the historic event was kind enough to point out to me that I had incorrectly quoted the phrase. He also briefly informed me as to the controversy associated with the famous saying.
Being the perfectionist that I am, this aroused my curiosity. So to enlighten myself to the facts, as well as to qualify my understanding/misunderstanding of the saying, I did some research on the subject.
The following excerpts are from and The Guardian.com in 2012 and Time.com in 2019, clarifying the misconception that many of us have in regard to what was actually said by Mr. Armstrong on that historic day.
What Did Neil Armstrong Really Say When He Stepped onto the Moon?
It is perhaps the most famous phrase ever uttered by a human being, a form of words that instantly summed up the meaning of an extraordinary moment in the history of the human race. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Ever since the landing on 20 July 1969, there has been controversy over whether he fluffed his line.
Did Armstrong really mean to say, “a man” instead of just “man?”
When Armstrong returned from space, he claimed he had been misquoted and the tiny word “a” had been omitted from the official version of the mission transcript.
NASA claimed that the word was unheard and unrecorded in the transmission because of static.
The omission of the word changed the meaning of the phrase entirely, taking it beyond a statement from one individual and turning it into a universal statement.
News reporters at the time listened again to the raw footage and agreed it was unclear whether Armstrong had actually said “a man” or “man.” Realizing that it was set to be one of the most important quotes in history, they decided to unanimously settle on one version, which was sent out across the world.
However, the New York Times claimed Armstrong’s quote could be heard clearly in the recording and concluded that he simply had messed up his line.
In the years following the moon landing, Armstrong apparently accepted that he had fluffed the line when presented with a plaque bearing the famous quote.
Was Neil Armstrong Misquoted?
Grammarians have pondered the matter of the missing “a.” In the audio from the moon, Armstrong sounds as if he’s saying, “One small step for man,” and that’s the wording that appeared in contemporary reports on the moment. But wouldn’t it make more sense for him to have said, “One small step for a man.” That extra article would improve the sentence’s grammar, highlighting the contrast between the single individual and the entirety of humankind, and Armstrong has said that he meant to say it that way in the first place.
After analyzing the audio file more closely, some experts have come to believe he did in fact say that syllable and has been misquoted in the 50 years since.
In 2006, a computer programmer Peter Shann Ford said he detected the missing “a” after putting the audio into software that disabled people use to communicate using nerve impulses—research that Armstrong in a statement called “persuasive” backing for the idea that he did not misspeak. A 2013 study provided further support for the idea that Armstrong meant to say “a man” even if listeners on Earth didn’t hear it that way. A year after Armstrong died on August 25, 2012, at the age of 82, researchers from Ohio State University and Michigan State University analyzed the speaking patterns of central Ohioans like Armstrong, who hailed from Wapakoneta, and found that they tend to leave out words like “for” and “a.”
So, from analyzing, pondering, and being enlightened by all of this information, my personal and final conclusion is that like the historic and famous question of, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” the world may never know.
Wayne Clark is a professional tennis instructor with over 25 years’ experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction and is on staff as an instructor with The Pickleball Academy of Southwest Florida at East Naples Community Park. Contact Coach Wayne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.