There’s Even More to Neil Armstrong’s Famous Moon Landing Phrase: Why You Might Be Misquoting It

Late last year, the background story emerged to Neil Armstrong‘s famous “one small step for mankind” moon landing phrase. Now, there’s even a bit more to it. And it’s that it might have been misquoted all this time thanks to the late astronaut’s accent.

(Image: NASA)

Researchers with Ohio State University and Michigan State University have analyzed the phrase “that’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind,” which many have long said they can’t hear the “a” before “man.” The popular version of the phrase generally doesn’t include the “a” because of this. 

According to a press release for the research that will be presented at the 21st International Congress on Acoustics in Montreal this week, those raised in central Ohio frequently blend “between words” like “for” and “a,” suggesting that an “a” very well could have been in the phrase. In other words, part of the confusion might be attributed to Armstrong’s accent and local dialect.

This photo released Monday, Oct. 22, 2012 by RR Auction shows late astronaut Neil Armstrong’s handwritten note, “one small step,” in pencil on a cream-colored 8.5 x 11 three-ring binder divider, which will be among more than 600 items of space and aviation memorabilia being offered at auction by the Amherst, N.H., auction house, which starts Nov. 21, 2012. (Photo: AP/RR Auction)

“Prior acoustic analyses of Neil Armstrong’s recording have established well that if the word ‘a’ was spoken, it was very short and was fully blended acoustically with the preceding word,” co-presenter Laura Dilley of MSU said in a statement.

If Armstrong did say “a” but blended it, it would have sounded like “frrr(uh).”

The researchers’ analysis included looking at the time between words in Armstrong’s speech and also evaluating the speech of those in Columbus, Ohio, near Amstrong’s native town of Wapakoneta. With both of these, Dilley said she believes they “bolstered Neil Armstrong’s side of the story.” He long maintained he said “a man.”

“We feel we’ve partially vindicated him. But we’ll most likely never know for sure exactly what he said based on the acoustic information.”

After knowing about this linguistics research, take a listen and see what you think of the phrase: