Q & A with Ellen Jovin, the Rebel with a Clause

This week, Ellen Jovin answered some question we had about her new book, Rebel with a Clause, and the other books on her mind. Find her responses below and look out for her Grammar Table on the streets of NYC! Rebel with a Clause comes out July 19th! 

How did you come to write Rebel with a Clause

In 2018 I created a popup grammar-advice stand called the Grammar Table and began answering grammar questions from passersby on the streets of New York City. I didn’t have a book in mind when I did it—I set it up because I thought it would be fun—but then people started telling me it could/should be a book. I wrote a book proposal proposing that I travel around the US with the Grammar Table, gave it to my agent, Victoria Skurnick, got a book deal, and traveled with the table throughout 2019 and into early 2020. My husband went all over with me and filmed everything for a Grammar Table documentary, which means I had unusually good records and transcripts to work with when I was writing. By the time covid hit, we had already hit 47 states, and then I spent the pandemic working on the book.

What are you currently reading?

Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life by Zina Hitz and also The Empress and the English Doctor by Lucy Ward, about Catherine the Great and smallpox vaccinations.

Do you have a personal favorite grammarly book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why? 

I don’t have favorite books, favorite grammar books, favorite authors, favorite colors, favorite songs, etc., because there is too much beauty and variety in the world for me to make such choices. However, I do love reading old grammar books—they tend to be extra technical and geeky while also offering insight into contemporary culture—and one that I got a big kick out of was an 1818 epistolary grammar book by William Cobbett. The full title is A Grammar of the English Language, in a Series of Letters: Intended for the Use of Schools and of Young Persons in General, but More Especially for the Use of Soldiers, Sailors, Apprentices, and Plough-Boys. The letters in it were addressed to Cobbett’s young son. Now, sometimes at the Grammar Table, people tell me that their parents pestered them a lot about grammar, but no one has ever come up to me and said, “When I was a kid, my dad wrote me a bunch of really long letters about grammar and made me read them and learn all the grammar in them and then he published them as a book.” 

Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to the publication of?

Yes, the fifth edition of Garner’s Modern English Usage by Bryan Garner is coming out in November. I am really into that book. It is big, it has tons of examples and excellent commentary, and although I put a lot of books on the Grammar Table, that is the only book I’ve had with me every single time I’ve gone out. It requires a monumental amount of thoughtful, careful labor to put together a reference book like that, and I respect thoughtful, careful labor.

What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?

Mostly I just want to be in the light and air, sitting at the Grammar Table, shooting the breeze with grammar-curious people. Covid dented my grammar social life, and I am still catching up. I would love to write more books, too. I have a file full of book ideas, dozens of them at this point, and I hope at least one of those ideas will become an actual book. Thank you for asking!

Ellen Jovin is a founder of Syntaxis, a communication skills training consultancy. She holds degrees from Harvard in German and UCLA in comparative literature, and has studied twenty-five languages just for fun. She lives with her husband in New York City.

Rebel With A Clause: Tales and Tips from a Roving Grammarian By Ellen Jovin Cover Image
ISBN: 9780358278153
Availability: On hand at one or more locations, see product page for details
Published: Mariner Books - July 19th, 2022

Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life By Zena Hitz Cover Image
ISBN: 9780691229195
Availability: On hand at one or more locations, see product page for details
Published: Princeton University Press - August 24th, 2021

The Empress and the English Doctor: How Catherine the Great defied a deadly virus By Lucy Ward Cover Image
ISBN: 9780861542451
Availability: Not In Stock - Usually ships in 3-5 Days
Published: Oneworld Publications - June 7th, 2022

Garner's Modern English Usage By Bryan A. Garner Cover Image
ISBN: 9780197599020
Availability: Not In Stock - Usually ships in 3-5 Days
Published: Oxford University Press, USA - November 17th, 2022