I’m sure when the Chinese land on the moon the first man down the ladder will not sound like Tarzan the way Neil Armstrong did. The Chinese written language is thousands of years old. Their most famous poet lived 1400 years ago, and his most famous poem, memorized by every child in China–and many adults can recite it–was a four line stanza about moonlight at the foot of the bed and memories of far off home. The moon is pretty far from home, so the lucky Taikonaut might take a line from it.
However, the Chinese language has no definite or indefinite article, so Chinese students rarely use them when they speak English, so they wouldn’t have had any trouble understanding Neil when he hit the moon. But for native speakers, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” saying “man” without the indefinite article means “mankind.” What he said made no sense except to the Chinese, and probably to Tarzan because I’ve heard Tarzan talk and he never uses the indefinite article either, and his English is even worse than the Chinese: “Jane not home. One small step for friend chimpanzee, one giant leap for chimpanzeekind.”
I’ve always imagined that Neil had a full two weeks sitting around and gazing out of the window of his little spaceship to come up with something clever to say when he got to the moon, and what he finally did say was pretty lame–and it wasn’t even true. “For mankind”? Tell that to the Russians. It was a race, remember? And if it was for mankind, why didn’t the Americans share their technology with them and the rest of the human race? But, no, Neil wasn’t talking about that mankind, he was talking about the other mankind that heeded America.
I would have loved to hear Neil say something a little more original or indicative of the time:
“Mother, may I take one small step? Yes, you may.”
or better yet:
“Buzz, may I take one small step?”
“Yes, you may, Neil, you ham.”
“My right boot just stepped on the moon. Do I have a bid?”
Please, please, I’m not a comedian. Add your best shot in the comments as to what Neil Armstrong should have said when he stepped on the moon.
“Can you believe it? I stepped in dog poop!”