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Spell a word only one way (Quotation)

Quotation: "I have nothing but contempt for anyone who can spell a word only one way."


  1. "You should never trust a man who has only one way to spell a word."
  2. "Pity the man who can spell a word only one way."
  3. "I never met a man so narrow that he can spell a word in only one way."

Sources consulted: Searching on the phrase "spell a word"

  1. Monticello website
  2. Ford's Works of Thomas Jefferson
  3. L&B (CD-ROM version)
  4. UVA EText Jefferson Digital Archive: Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, Thomas Jefferson on Politics and Government, Texts by or to Thomas Jefferson from the Modern English Collection
  5. Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress
  6. Thomas Jefferson Retirement Papers
  7. Quotable Jefferson (searching in the index under "spelling")
  8. Quotations

Earliest known appearance in print: 1880 (see Comments below).[1]

Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Thomas Jefferson: 1983[2]

Other attributions: Andrew Jackson; Mark Twain; G.K. Chesterton; W.C. Fields

Status: We currently have no evidence to confirm that Thomas Jefferson ever said or wrote, "I have nothing but contempt for anyone who can spell a word only one way," or any variation thereof.

Comments: This saying and other similar variations have been attributed to numerous people, as well as appearing in print as an anonymous witticism. The Yale Book of Quotations traces its print origins back to at least 1880;[3] Ralph Keyes, in The Quote Verifier, concludes that it is simply an "old gag."[4]


  1. To establish the earliest appearance of this phrase in print, the following sources were searched for the phrase, "spell a word only one way": Google Books, Google Scholar,, Internet Archive, America's Historical Newspapers, American Broadsides and Ephemera Series I, Early American Imprints Series I and II, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, American Periodicals Series Online, JSTOR.
  2. McWilliams, Peter, The Word Processing Book: A Short Course in Computer Literacy (Los Angeles: Prelude Press, 1983), 57.
  3. Fred R. Shapiro, Yale Book of Quotations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 782.
  4. Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2006), 207.

Further Sources

  • Jefferson to Martha Jefferson, 28 November 1783. PTJ 6:359-361. Transcription (Ford) available online.
  • Jefferson to John Wilson, 17 August 1813 - polygraph copy at the Library of Congress. Transcription.
  • Quotation Investigator. "No Respect for a Man Who Can Spell a Word Only One Way. Mark Twain? Andrew Jackson?" An article from the Quotation Investigator blog, examining the origins of this quotation.


Sautermeg's picture
M.S. Mr. Jones's APUSH 6: I like this comment because it's something we don't think about/apply to our world, but it's actually a very crucial skill in life and politics. Democracy has worked in many different forms throughout the world, the definition of citizen has changed for the good or the bad. At times people need to understand freedom means different things to different people, maybe even different connotations.


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