Even after all these years, there’s some debate on what, exactly, Neil Armstrong said when he landed on the moon. Armstrong had said on the record that the quote was the grammatically correct, “One small step for A man, one giant leap for man kind.” But back on Earth, most people thought the “a” was omitted. Maybe Armstrong flubbed the quote, or it didn’t come through clearly on Earth. Or maybe, as a team of speech scientists is now suggesting, Armstrong’s accent was the problem.
The researchers, from Ohio State University and Michigan State University, say the “a” could’ve been short and blended in to the earlier part of the quote: something like, “One small step ‘frrr(uh)’ man.” That, the team says, would be consistent with the accent Armstrong would have from growing up in central Ohio. Combine that accent with the poor audio being broadcast from Earth to the moon, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole planet mishearing history.
To test that hypothesis, the researchers dug through an archive with conversations from 40 people raised in Columbus, Ohio. (Armstrong, from nearby Wapakoneta, had a similar accent.) People said “for a” 191 times. The researchers then measured the time it took those people to say “for a” versus just “for.” Turns out, it doesn’t take Ohioans much longer to say “for a” than it does “for,” which indicates some blending of the words. Armstrong’s frrr(uh) clocked in at 0.127 seconds, meaning it fell in that blended range.
Does that mean Armstrong definitely added that “a” in his famous quote? Not necessarily, but it does bolster the idea that he did, and that one of the best-known quotes in American history is technically correct.