Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to explore strange old quotes, to seek out new sayings, and new ways of stating them in a galaxy not so far away. [Listen to our podcast at thequotablespodcast.libsyn.com ]

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"A" Big Deal: What Did Neil Armstrong Say?

Sometimes the most important words are the smallest ones. Once, I turned in a college paper only to realize that I had left a single word out of my thesis statement. It was just three little letters: n-o-t. That omission meant that not one of the following 12 pages offered support to the thesis statement. I ran up to the pile of papers, and quickly penned in the missing word. Fortunately, Dr. MacFarland was amused rather than irritated.

For the last half of his life, Neil Armstrong probably wished he could pen in his missing word too. In one of the most famous quotations of the twentieth century, his omission of the one-letter word "a" caused him to contradict himself. Perhaps I should be ashamed to admit that I never noticed. When he said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," I knew exactly what he intended. Maybe you didn't notice either. When he left out the indefinite article (that's right, I know my parts of speech), it changed his literal meaning to "one small step for humanity, one giant leap for humanity." Well, Neil, which is it? Did we take a small step or a giant leap?

For years, Neil and some sound technicians insisted that the "a" was garbled by the technology of the day. Others contended that he simply misspoke. Recently, a BBC interview with his brother, Dean Armstrong, revealed that he absolutely intended to say "a man," and now that has led to even more controversy. Find out why in this week's podcast. Listen now.

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