What does it mean when a person says "I don't give a damn for someone that can only spell a word one way" when talking about give and take relationship?

The situation goes like this: My friend helped her classmate with her research paper. Then, after a week when my friend asked for help from her classmate, she refused to help back. That's when he said "I don't give a damn for someone that can only spell a word one way."

  • 5
    Perhaps stating the actual text and context would help your question
    – Thursagen
    Sep 10, 2011 at 2:12
  • I have nothing but contempt for people who use phrases that need as much debate as abstract art, to be found in any way meaningful. Ah, sorry. The answer is likely "Here's a phrase, possibly about inflexibility, sounds deep"
    – kaay
    Apr 27, 2016 at 6:06

3 Answers 3


It sounds like spelling a word one way (some words have multiple acceptable spellings, but that's beside the point) is being used as a metaphor to represent a greater inability to bend or compromise on your beliefs. This describes someone who is very stubborn.


Firstly it should be noted that what your friend said comes not from his own mind. It's an unsourced quote which comes in many variations, some of which are:

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

You should never trust a man who has only one way to spell a word.

I never met a man so narrow that he can spell a word in only one way.

We can only assume what your friend might have meant when he said the phrase. Why don't you simply ask him and let him explain himself?

Personally I think he was angry at her not helping him back after he helped her with her project. What happened is an example of a "one way help". He helped her, but she didn't help him back.

I'm not saying this is what the original phrase is supposed to mean. I'm assuming your friend misused the phrase.


It's a quote/joke commonly attributed to Mark Twain. Probably wrongly, since it was first recorded at least as early as 1855 - Twain was only 20 at the time, and that usage seems unlikely to have derived from him anyway.

Twain had some pretty odd ideas about spelling anyway, so it does seem fitting to attribute it to him even if this isn't actually true. Probably OP's speaker thought so, if he even "knew" or cared about the origin.

Almost certainly he meant he thought OP's friend was ill-educated/unimaginative/boring, and unworthy to receive his assistance. So he was refusing to cast his pearls [of wisdom] before swine.


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