Why Must Bike Activists Continue to Roll Over the English Language?

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Dennis Herrera -- and his fun but ungrammatical T-shirt
Look, we're tickled by Dennis Herrera's photo of himself showing up to work on a bicycle today -- he looks like he's getting ready to wave a kid around third base while coaching his son's Little League team, and we like that casual look in a city attorney. We're also amazed at how fast the camera-ready potential mayoral candidate's cycling photo was up on his city Web page -- that's speed and efficiency you don't need to blow through stop signs or red lights to appreciate.

Herrera received his humorous T-shirt as a gift from press secretary Matt Dorsey; it's a dig on the well-known "One Less Car" slogan popularized by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Yet while we love the ethos, we hate the grammar. As we noted back in 2007, "One Less Car" ain't the goodest use of English there be. We noted at the time: "As you'll clearly find on page 87 of your 1982 edition of Robert W. Bly and Gary Blake's Technical Writing: Structure, Standards, and Style, fewer is used when units or individuals can be counted ("fewer containers") while less is used with quantities of mass, bulk or volume ("less weight")."

Bicycle Coalition program director Andy Thornley was a good sport, admitting that, yes, "One Less Car" (and, by extension, "One Less Lawyer in a Car") is grammatically incorrect -- but it catches the eye: "It's really a very catchy slogan. It gets people talking -- and gets people from alt-weekly papers calling me."

Fair enough. And yet -- especially in the case of Herrera, who must pay attention to the "letter of the law" -- this ongoing bastardization of the English language, even in service of a good cause, is problematic. Is "One Fewer Car" really that hard on the ears? Will the bicycle enthusiasts and grammar enthusiasts ever see eye to eye?

When queried about this, Dorsey laughed and chided himself for falling into the same grammatical trap that has plagued countless supermarket express lanes. In the meantime, those of us hoping to curry favor with the lawyer-hating general public could special-order Herrera's shirt -- and remove the words "in a car." 

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