Thursday, July 20, 2006

July 20: Antithesis Day

Today is the anniversary of what many consider the single greatest human achievement of all time: the successful Moon mission of Apollo 11. On July 20, 1969 at 4:17 p.m. (EDT), Neil A. Armstrong became the first human to stand on the Moon. Armstrong was soon joined by Buzz Aldrin, and the two astronauts proceeded to spend 21 hours on the Moon collecting 46 pounds of moon rocks before returning to the Lunar Module (1).

The race to the Moon that began with the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik was over, and the first words from a human being on the Moon were in English:

That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.

It is interesting to note that the first words spoken by a human being on a heavenly body other than Earth were misspoken. Armstrong meant to say:

That's one small step for "a" man; one giant leap for mankind.

After his famous first sentence on the Moon, Armstrong began to describe the surface of the Moon:

Yes, the surface is fine and powdery. I can kick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers, like powdered charcoal, to the sole and sides of my boots. I only go in a small fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles.

Few people remember, however, what Armstrong said after his first "one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind" statement. Even though he slightly flubbed his big line, he still crafted a memorable sentence that was structured to capture the magnitude of the moment. At the moment of mankind's most remarkable technological achievement, Armstrong used a structured form that dates back to the classical orators of ancient Greece and Rome.

The specific rhetorical device he used is called antithesis. As a word antithesis means "the exact opposite," as in Love is the antithesis of hate. But as figure of speech, antithesis juxtaposes two contrasting ideas in a balanced manner, or -- as in Armstrong's case -- a contrast of degrees: small step and giant leap; and man and mankind.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition defines antithesis as follows:

a figure of speech involving a seeming contradiction of ideas, words, clauses, or sentences within a balanced grammatical structure. Parallelism of expression serves to emphasize opposition of ideas. The familiar phrase “Man proposes, God disposes” is an example of antithesis, as is John Dryden’s description in “The Hind and the Panther”: “Too black for heaven, and yet too white for hell” (2).

One of the most famous uses of antithesis is the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities, where Charles Dickens uses and re-uses antithesis to set the novel's scene:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...

Today's Challenge: The Long and the Short of Antithesis

The quotes below are other noteworthy examples of antithesis. See if you can correctly fill in the blanks with the contrasting ideas:

1. Jack Sprat could eat no _____; his wife could eat no _____.

Now is the ______ of our discontent
Made glorious ______ by this son of York....
--William Shakespeare

3. Some men see things as they are and say _____. I dream things that never were and say _____ _____.'"
--Robert F. Kennedy

4. It can't be _____ if it feels so _____ —Debbie Boone

5. The world will little note, nor long _______, what we say here, but it can never ______ what they did here."
-- Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

6. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the ______ of their skin but by the ______ of their character. I have a dream today!"
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

7. Err is _____, to forgive, ______. --Alexander Pope

Quote of the Day: Inspiration may be a form of super-consciousness, or perhaps of subconsciousness I wouldn't know. But I am sure it is the antithesis of self-consciousness. --Aaron Copland

Answers: 1. fat, lean 2. winter, summer 3. why, why not 4. wrong, right 5. remember, forget 6. color, content 7. human, devine

1- Apollo 11. The 30th Anniversary

2- "Antithesis." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.

1 comment:

Chaotic Planet said...

Thank you so much. :) Your page helped me with an assignment in my Linguistics class.