Antedating quote about spelling (attrib Mark Twain 1895) (attrib Hiram Runnels 1855)
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Thu Jan 14 05:57:44 UTC 2010
Fred Shapiro in The Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ) discusses a quote
about spelling that is often attributed to Mark Twain:
I have no respect for a man who can spell a word only one way.
Attributed in Chicago Daily Tribune, 22 May 1932. Without attribution
to Twain, this appears as early as 1880, in Marshall Brown, Wit and
Humor: "A man must be a great fool who can't spell a word more than
Based on a check that included the ADS archive, WikiQuote,
TwainQuotes, YBQ, Ralph Keyes work, and Barry Popik's website these
cites appear to be the earliest currently known for this quote. The
TwainQuotes site of Barbara Schmidt includes an excellent webpage on
the theme of spelling, but none of the quotes featured really match
Below we present an attribution of the joke to Mark Twain in 1895, to
Nyrum Reynolds in December 1855, and to Hiram Runnels in November
Citation: 1895 November, The New Education, Vol. 8, No. 6, Concerning
Spelling by Caroline Martin, Page 94, Snap Shot Publishing, New York.
Addison tells us that Will Honeycomb claimed to spell like a gentleman
rather than like a scholar; and Mark Twain says it isn't much of a
genius who can only spell a word in one way;
Citation: 1855 December 8, The Latter-Day Saints Millennial Star, Vol.
17, No. 49, Page 784, F. D. Richards, Islington.
(I have attempted below to preserve the spelling in the original document.)
The Hon. Nyrum Reynolds, of Wyoming county, one of the American
barristers of a former generation, was one day accused in court of bad
penmanship and worse spelling. "Gent'l'men of the jury," said he "the
learned counsel on the other side finds fault with my writin' and
spellin', as though the merits of the case depended upon such matters!
I'm agin luggin' in any sich outside affairs, but I will say that a
man must be a great fool who can't spell a word more than one way."
The jury sympathised with Reynolds, and rendered a decision in favour
of his client.
Citation: 1855 November, Harper's Magazine, Vol. 11, No. 66, Editor's
Drawer, Page 860, Harper's Magazine Company.
(Again I have attempted below to preserve the spelling in the original
Some years ago the Hon. Hiram Runnels, of Wyoming, Pennsylvania, had
quite a reputation as a pettifogger. His knowledge of books was very
small, and his main reliance was upon his own tact and shrewdness,
which rarely failed him, and lasts to this day. On one occasion he was
pitted against a smart, well-dressed limb of the law from the city,
who made fun of a paper which Runnels had submitted to the court. "All
law papers," said the learned counselor, "ought be written in the
English language, but I submit to the court that there are no words in
the language spelled as these in the document now before us. I insist
that it ought to be excluded." Runnels replied: "The learned counsel
on the other side finds fault with my spellin', as though the merits
of the case depended on sich outside matters. I'm agin luggin' in any
sich forin' affairs, but I will say that a man must be a great fool
who can't spell a word more than one way."
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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