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Being misquoted throughout history

Last week, I talked about the original Star Trek TV series, and tied its final episode to the first moon landing by Apollo 11.

I basically ended the column with the first words Neil Armstrong spoke after the landing: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed”.

Most people forget those were the first words spoken from the Moon, because of another quotation some time later that same day.

And this one may be more famous, but it also may have been misquoted for many years.

As Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, the quote for years was “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Some people couldn’t figure out why had used ‘man’ and ‘mankind’, which in that context meant basically the same thing. One well-known newspaper reporter defended Armstrong, reminding people he was an astronaut and obviously didn’t have notes to read from at that moment.

A few years ago, people started analysing the tapes of that moment. What they found was a slight pause between “for” and “man” in the first part, with a touch of static as well. They analyzed it further, and while they couldn’t say for sure, they now feel Armstrong may very well have said “for A man”, and that one short word got lost in the static.

So we may have been misquoting Neil Armstrong all these years, even if inadvertently. There are other people who have been misquoted for longer than 50 years, and nobody can argue that it’s a burst of static from 250,000 miles away that causes the confusion.

Take Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, with its famous lines, “Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do or die.”

Close, but the last line is actually, “Theirs but to do and die,” which gives it a totally different meaning.

I’ve always found it interesting that while many people know of The Charge of the Light Brigade, few know about an incident at the same battle of Balaclava, in the Crimean War, which occurred just a few hours earlier.

Tennyson also wrote about The Charge of the Heavy Brigade, but it is nowhere near as well known.

Maybe it’s because the Heavy Brigade charge succeeded in breaking a much larger Russian force of cavalry.

History may remember the winners, but it appears we glorify the losers.