I have been thinking about this post for a bit, I just decided to press publish. I hope you enjoy it.
“It’s ‘fewer’, not ‘less’ than”
My grandfather leaned back in our regular booth at Buck’s restaurant in Woodside as he corrected my grammar. I have to say, for a family of venture capitalists, my family spends a lot of time talking about the English language.
“Grammy would have wanted me to point that out, it’s fewer not less”
I smiled and glance up, with a challenging smirk.
“Don’t blame Grammy for you correcting my English!”
We both chuckled at my the memory of my grandmother.
Phyllis Draper was Pops’ right hand. If we were an Italian mob boss family, she was his consigliere. She smoothed things over. She was loved by all: presidents, world leaders, business leaders. She had a way to make people feel welcome, comfortable. She was also an incredible writer. Each member of my whole family has two books published only to our family with her writings. She followed my grandfather all over the world while he worked with the United Nations as the under secretary general, and she wrote about the places she visited.
My grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 37 years ago. The doctors said she would only live another 10 years when she was diagnosed. There are so many things that were special about my grandmother, but if I were to distill it down to one thing, it would be “no excuses.” She had Parkinson’s my entire life. And she swam every day, when I was a kid, until she couldn’t swim any more. When she couldn’t swim, she would walk 2 miles. When she couldn’t walk far, she walked down the street. When she lost her ability to speak she took voice lessons. When she lost her ability to write, she would type. Even though she could barely chew in the last 3 years, she still would always order the Prime Rib, the hardest thing to chew. Every day was a challenge, but you would have never known it.
I digress, she was an amazing person. I’m lucky to have known her for as long as I did.
“So you two had another one of your famous breakfasts today!”
My Dad’s voice booms more than it’s spoken. My Dad is awesome. He does everything with gusto and enthusiasm. He has enough energy to power a nuclear reactor to Mars and back. And if you don’t know him, he’s a Venture Capitalist also… So this post should be called “How many VCs does it take to drive a Tesla?”
My Dad glanced back at me from the driver seat of his crimson Tesla. I was in the back seat, and my grandfather was in the passenger seat. We had all gone to an event in SF, and my Dad offered a ride back."
“So what did you two talk about today?”
“Well, Pops corrected my grammar, blamed it on Grammy. I did finally learn the difference between ‘Fewer’ and ‘Less’. There are fewer cigarettes, but there’s less tobacco.”
My grandfather and I came up with this example for some reason. Neither of us smoke and I’m not sure tobacco has ever been brought up during a conversation with my grandfather. It did help me understand the difference of these two words though!
“But now I make way less mistakes.” I said, with the full knowledge that I was using ‘less’ incorrectly. My grandfather chuckled at the joke.
We had only been in the car for a few minutes and Pops pointed across my Dad’s body and made a suggestion on where to turn:
“Take Blabla street down.”
“No, that’s not the best route, I think I should take Blebla street.”
“No, you will get stuck in all sorts of traffic on Blebla.”
“But there’s a warriors game tonight, Blabla is not an option.”
“What about bleepblebla…”
I was in the back seat watching a father and a son debate their knowledge of San Francisco, and the best routes. Honestly, it was magical. I can’t really express how comfortable it made me in the back seat. It’s one of those moments where you get to be a fly on the wall, between a father and son who both want to be right. You don’t cheer for either squad, but you really hope that you end up where you are supposed to go.
So I did what anyone from my generation does, I took out my phone and searched Google Maps, and spoke up:
“Take Bloop bloop. It will pop us up at 80.”
“NO WAY! That drives us by Union Square. No way that works.”
“Ok. ok. You should be using Waze though, it’s better.”
If you ever get to share a ride with my grandfather and my Dad… I highly recommend it. That may be the next version of Uber, just ride-share with my Dad and grandpa.
I started to stare out the window as we exited onto the 80, just as Google suggested, not bothering to gloat. It must have been the aura of my grandmother that provoked it, but I suddenly had a grammar/english related question, and this car seemed as good time as any to ask. So I placed a statement into the conversation:
“I’ve never understood whether you are supposed to put the comma inside the quotations or outside.”
Without any hesitation my Dad answered.
“Well hold on now there Tim, I think it’s always outside, because it’s ending the thought.”
“NOOOOO, It’s always inside. If it wasn’t inside it would continue the sentence...”
I hope Grammy was watching this grammar show down. She would get a first class seat to three generations of venture capitalists debating about common grammatical mistakes. She would have been proud… entertained… and slightly embarrassed at how little I knew.
But she wouldn’t have loved it any fewer.