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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Me Capitulate: Boston Globe Grammarian Notes That, Yes, 'One Less Car' Is Proper Usage

Posted By on Thu, May 28, 2009 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge City Attorney Dennis Herrera is likely depressed about the Prop. 8 ruling -- but can take solace that his shirt is grammatically correct
  • City Attorney Dennis Herrera is likely depressed about the Prop. 8 ruling -- but can take solace that his shirt is grammatically correct
Earlier this month, on the event of Bike To Work Day, we published a piece titled "Why Must Bike Activists Continue to Roll Over the English Language?" Our contention was that, while "One Less Car" is a neat slogan, it's not grammatical. Andy Thornley, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's program manager, admitted as much.

Well, it turns out like Al Gore, Thornley conceded too soon. To our great surprise, the resident grammarian at the Boston Globe took up the coalition's case -- and convinced us that, yes, you can make a very strong argument that "One Less Car" is grammatically correct English.

"Yes, a strict observer of the less-fewer distinction would say '10

fewer cars,' but the rule has some subtleties, and one less is one of

them," wrote Jan Freeman in The Globe's The Word Column last week. "Here's the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and

Style (2005) on the idiom: 'Less is also used with singular count nouns

in the expression one less, as in "There is one less boat at the landing


She continues: "When Theodore Bernstein dealt with less and fewer in 'The Careful

Writer' (1965), he also pointed out that fewer runs into 'idiom

trouble' when the number gets down to one. 'You cannot say "one fewer

seats," nor can you say "one fewer seat." But Bernstein declined to

endorse one less: 'The only escape hatch is "one seat fewer," he said."

What's this mean? It means that the coalition's nifty slogan is pretty much beyond reproach.

But while the Globe's Freeman is a grammar expert, her Web etiquette was a bit lacking. We linked to her article. She did not do us the same favor.

UPDATE: Freeman explains in our comments section -- with cleverness and humor -- that linking to articles is out of her hands. Fair enough.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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