3 strongest phrases in English that have changed the life of mankind

Almost every event in world history is accompanied by some kind of quote, which is taken to the media, books and VK publics.

In this material, we decided to take several of these in English, analyze their meaning from the point of view of history, and look at the features of their grammar and vocabulary.

That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind

The space race between the USSR and the USA in the 70s, although it was one of the elements of the geopolitical confrontation between the two superpowers, but thanks to this, in some 10-15 years, the countries achieved unimaginable successes in space exploration.

It took only 12 years from the launch of the first artificial satellite to the landing of a man on the moon. Given that computing power was several orders of magnitude weaker than it is today, Gagarin’s space missions and Armstrong’s teams on the moon seem unrealistic.

Gagarin’s phrase “Let’s go” is known to all Russian-speaking people, and we ourselves use it in the preview of most of our texts on Habré. And Armstrong’s phrase has become even stronger in history – the whole world knows it.

That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.

This is one small step for a person. And a huge leap for all of humanity.

Neil Armstrong said it right after he stepped onto the lunar surface. And the phrase instantly became legendary.

Here, for example, is an article in the newspaper The Guardian, which came out the morning after the lunar landing.

But another thing is also interesting – in fact, the quote is not entirely correct grammatically. And the astronaut, after returning to Earth, admitted that he was a little mistaken.

Armstrong lost the article a, which gave the phrase a completely different meaning. Without an article, the word man means the same as mankind – humanity. But the astronaut meant himself as one person.

The sound from the original recording is not very good. And it’s not exactly clear whether Armstrong missed the article or pronounced it together with man. Programmers considerthat the article is still there. But the quote remained in history without him. However, this does not interfere with its correct perception.

Formally, this is considered a grammatical error. But in fact – this is a common thing in the media. For example, in newspaper and magazine headlines, articles are often omitted to reduce the number of characters. So in this context, the quote seems quite understandable.

It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change

This phrase fundamentally changed biology and became the beginning of the modern understanding of evolutionary theory and natural selection.

Until the beginning of the 19th century, scientists had a rather meager understanding of the biology of the animal world. They were based only on observation and speculation, but there was no scientific theory that would explain the wide variety of animal species.

The first grounded theory of evolution was Lamarck’s theory, the main principle of which the biologist called the law of “exercise and non-exercise of organs.” In a nutshell, the giraffe’s neck is long, because it constantly tries to reach the leaves of tall trees, and the next generations will inherit this feature.

There were many logical inconsistencies in theory, so the search continued. Everything was changed by Darwin, who adopted the principle of natural selection as the basis of evolution.

It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.

It is not the strongest or the smartest that survives, but the one who adapts best to change.

This quote is the main idea of ​​The Origin of Species, in which Darwin sets out his theory of evolution. Therefore, she is strongly associated with him.

But in fact, this is not Darwin’s phrase: there is nothing of the kind either in The Origin of Species or in the letters of a scientist. In fact, the true author of the expression is Professor Leon Magginson.

In his research paper Lessons from Europe for American Business, he refers to Darwin as follows:

According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.

According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the smartest species or the strongest that survives, but the species that survives best adapts to the changing environment in which it finds itself.

Formally, the phrase is the central thought of The Origin of Species, and the scientist in his work honestly makes a reference to Darwin. Here are just the phrase itself – a generalization. Over time, the media and science pop changed it, making it shorter and more sonorous:

It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.

By the way, from this phrase you can learn one of the rare, but interesting rules of English – the use of the word nor.

It is commonly used in opposition clauses paired with neither or not to convey the meaning of either this or that. The following version of the quote will also be grammatically correct:

It is neither the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.

The only difference is that neither is more formal here than not. But the meanings are identical.

I have a dream

The most famous phrase from the speech of Martin Luther King, a fighter for black rights in the United States. It was delivered near the Lincoln Memorial in the heart of Washington DC in 1963.

Martin Luther King has become an icon of the movement for equality between black and white Americans. And his performance became one of the most iconic in US history. For example, edition The Independent named her greatest speech ever delivered in English.

The speech itself is quite long – 16 minutes. But the phrase I have a dream is repeated 8 times in it. That is why she is so strongly remembered. And it was she who was knocked out on the steps of the memorial where King pronounced it.

The speech itself was as simple as possible in meaning without complex words, but at the same time filled with references to famous speeches, documents and books.

We will not go over the entire speech as a whole – this is a topic for a completely separate deep material, but we will recall several interesting points from the point of view of references and the English language in general.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Five twenty years ago, the great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

The word “score” can indeed be used to indicate a period of 20 years. But it was already obsolete in the 1960s. Here King made a very direct reference to Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address, which began with the words “Four score and seven years ago”.

There are also a number of references to the Old Testament. For example, here is one of them:

No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

No, we are not calm, and we cannot rest until the spring of justice and righteousness closes in.

Here the thought from the book of the prophet Amos is practically duplicated – But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Let judgment flow like water, and truth – like a strong stream).

There is even a reference to Shakespeare:

This sweltering summer of the colored people’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.

This sultry summer of justifiable disaffection from the people of color will not end until an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality arrives.

Connoisseurs of English literature may notice a very clear reference to Richard III:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.


So the sun of York transformed
In a good summer, our winter troubles.
And the clouds that gravitated over us
Buried in the depths of the ocean.

All speech is skillfully crafted. It is easy for ordinary people to understand and at the same time difficult, because it is filled with subtext and references that expand the understanding of the lines. And the phrase I have a dream has become a symbol of the struggle for equality for decades.

And after the assassination of King in 1968, the phrase became a cult phrase in the struggle for equal rights in the United States.


We are not adepts of inspirational quotes – we inspire differently. Nevertheless, some phrases spoken by famous people have had a strong influence on world history. And many of them were spoken in English. If you want to fully understand the meaning and context, sign up for a free trial online lesson with a teacher now.

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