The Thinking 

Person, Not Man

August 30, 2012


FRED OWENS writes:

The headline in the Los Angeles Times last week read: “Neil Armstrong, first person to walk on the moon, dies at 82.”

First “person?” The man lands on the moon and you have to correct his grammar when he dies? Person is a terrible word, corporations are persons, but I am not a “person.” Call me a man, call me a human being, but don’t correct my grammar. I could send a posthumous e-mail to Arthur Miller to say he needs to change the title of his great tragedy to “Death of a Salesperson.” And sing that old Broadway tune, “Here am I, Don Quixote, the Person of LaMancha.” Inclusive grammar has its place but not when it becomes an overarching dogma that violates the beauty and rhythm of good language.

“This is one small step for a person, one giant leap for humankind.” That is what Neil Armstrong would have said if he had known better. Argh!

I have an Internet subscription to the LA Times. I actually pay $12 per month to read it because somebody somewhere ought to get paid for the work of journalism. But this clumsy-but-correct headline explains why a formerly great newspaper like the Los Angeles Times is losing money. Headline writing is an art form — kind of like haiku poetry. You need to get a whole message into four or five punchy words. You need to have an ear for language. It’s a skill. The English language is chock full of solid one-syllable words that make strong phrases like “hard work” and “night and day” and “you bet your life.” Those are the words to use in newspaper headlines.

—– Comments —–

Hurricane Betsy writes:

Well, I have a different take on the comments here. Suppose the headline read, “First man to walk on the moon dies.” This implies that there could be a second human being on the moon, and it might be a woman (though not necessarily, but it could happen, according to the feminists). Armstrong was only the first MAN. Not as great an achievement as being the first PERSON there. If you are the first person to walk on the moon, no one can ever take that away from you. But when the first woman will walk on the moon, I can assure you that Armstrong’s being first will become all but a footnote.

So I’d say that “first person on the moon” is actually a better choice of words. However, that’s just the way I see it. I’d suggest that most people don’t even notice. They just see an announcement of the death of Neil Armstrong.

Laura writes:

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Owens. Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, and I would have definitely noticed this headline.

Mr. Owens writes:

Regarding the moon landing and the posthumous revision of Neil Armstrong’s heroic act, it might be said that,

“Man Initiates, but Woman Corrects.”

Buck writes:

Hurricane Betsy writes:

Suppose the headline read, “First man to walk on the moon dies.” This implies that there could be a second human being on the moon, and it might be a woman…

No, logic would dictate “the second man, the third man, etc.” (There have been thirteen). “First” does not imply the possibility of a woman and it does not necessitate “person.” If a woman had walked on the moon, then astronaut or person would be logical.

But seriously. Does anyone actually believe that if a woman was the next “person” to walk on the moon, and she died; that our modern liberal society would say, “The thirteenth person (or astronaut) to walk on the moon dies,” or would for one second entertain, much less condone such a headline? It would read “FIRST WOMAN TO WALK ON THE MOON DIES.”

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