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“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I read on the news today the world heard Neil Armstrong said "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.". But later, Neil Armstrong insisted that he actually said 'a man' but that the 'a' was not heard because of static. So this begs the question "What is the difference between the 2 versions?" Is the version that Neil Armstrong wanted the world to hear a grammatically correct one and the other one is not?

marked as duplicate by coleopterist, Lynn, Hugo, MetaEd, Barrie England Jan 2 '13 at 8:44

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  • 1
    "begs the question" does not mean what you ( and many native speakers) think it means. – Andrew Grimm Jan 2 '13 at 8:28

If you read the first 'man' to mean the broader humanity/mankind, the phrase sounds a little goofy:

That's one small step for mankind, one giant leap for mankind.

Huh? How can it be both a small step and a giant leap for mankind at the same time?

Whereas if you read it the way Armstrong allegedly meant to say it:

That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

Now it makes a little more sense. It's just one guy taking a little step off a spaceship, but it represents a giant leap forward for mankind as a whole.

  • "[this] man" has always been my interpretation. Cross reference "man and wife" for singular individual use without the article. I prefer to see it this way. – fredsbend Jul 18 at 6:57
  • For a man means for an adult male human.

  • For man means for mankind in general: for all humans.

So to skip the a reduces the pronouncement to some sort of nonsense, since now they are the same thing.

  • I apparently misread your answer and posted something that I now realize said almost the same thing, only differently. I'm not sure whether to edit one or the other, delete mine, or what. At any rate - apologies, duplication was not intentional. – Lynn Jan 2 '13 at 4:30

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