A grammar expert takes on vexing questions and pet peeves.
Jovin, the author of several books on writing and grammar, describes her experiences traveling across the country answering the public’s questions about language use. In 49 lively chapters, she recounts her conversations on punctuation, conjugation, spelling, pronunciation, and contentious word choices while offering sage and sensible advice on common areas of confusion. She writes about passersby who air their grievances about the misuse of apostrophes, and she offers jaunty but exceptionally clear illustrations of their appropriate deployment. Individual chapters cover some familiar problem areas—affect and effect, lie and lay, whoever and whomever—along with broader reflections on the evolution of verbal conventions in the digital age and the significance of a respect for language itself. The conversations that unfold on her tour are, she rightly observes, “filled with humor and feeling for the complex linguistic glue that binds us together as human beings and distinguishes us from other living creatures.” Jovin’s charm as an explainer of sometimes-esoteric rules and as a defender of common sense and clarity in communication is a major strength of this book. Another is her lighthearted but incisive commentary on people’s emotional investments in grammar. A large part of the book’s comedy comes from her descriptions of how disagreements about proper expression can pit people against one another, poisoning otherwise successful relationships. Many of the chapters describe people venting about others’ grammatical lapses, and Jovin positions herself, convincingly, as not just a linguistic, but an emotional counselor, fostering healthy communication rather than judgement. The invitation she poses in her introduction—“Now, please lie down on a nice couch with this book and let’s have some grammar therapy”—is well worth accepting.
A delightful, educative journey through some prickly regions of English grammar.