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This is a forum to discuss the gray areas of the English language for which you would not find answers easily in dictionaries or other reference books. You can browse through the latest questions and comments below. If you have a question of your own, please submit it here.

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I am playing rooster in a production of Annie and I need some terms of endearment that were used in the 20s and 30s. I use the term “blondie” but the woman I say it to isn’t blonde. How about “sweet cheeks”? Any help?

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Is it actually correct to use “American” when referring to residents of the United States? I was traveling in Peru last summer and to my surprise realized for the first time that people down in South America consider themselves to be “Americans” too. After all, South America is as “America” as North America, right?

So to be clear, for a technical publication I’m working on, what’s the best way to refer to residents of the US? Is “American” still acceptable? The study I’m quoting uses “US residents,” but there are times when that phrase becomes unwieldy.

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Is there a grammatical difference between saying “I walked down the street backwards” and “I walked down the street backward” (without the “s”)? Is one of them incorrect, or are they interchangeable? Does the same go for “forward(s)” and “toward(s)”?

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Is separating two coordinating-conjunction-linked sentences, the former having a comma(s), with a semicolon instead of a comma logically justified?

In GrammarBook.com’s Semicolons category, Rule 5. reads:

Use the semicolon between two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction when one or more commas appear in the first sentence.

Examples: When I finish here, I will be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep.

If she can, she will attempt that feat; and if her husband is able, he will be there to see her.

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Why is the term “attorneys general” correct? It used to be “attorney generals” ... There are multiple attorney generals.

If I was describing a group of Army generals, I wouldn’t say “Armies General” ... would I?

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“What can I do besides complaining” sounds wrong to me but I can’t say why ... I think it should be complain.

“What can I do besides complain?”
“What can I do but complain?”

However, “Besides complaining, what can I do?” sounds ok.

Any thoughts? Or am I completely off base here?

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I have an ear for when people use bad grammar, especially the use of prepositions at the end of a clause. I was recently watching a show, however, and a character said “Toys are meant to be played with.” What is the correct wording of this phrase? It is killing me.

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“Under urgency”? I recently came across this phrase for the first time in my life. The context was:- “Parliament passed the Copyright Amendment Act into law under urgency last night” Can’t really put my finger on why, and I can’t at the moment come up with an alternative, but it just doesn’t sound right. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

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Why does sports media persist in the use of the phrase “hone in” instead of “home in”. Traditionally, a missile homes in (not hones in) on a target. Hone means “to sharpen.” The verb home means “to move toward a goal” or “to be guided to a target.”

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Are “whensoever” and “whenever” really the same? 

In some of the dictionaries I checked, “whensoever” is defined “whenever”; but I disagree.

For instance, I think “The students may leave whenever they so choose” can be written “[...] whensoever they choose” because “so” is already part of “whensoever”.

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Pled versus pleaded

We are not talking connotation and de oration here. Plead is plead and the past is pleaded, end of discussion. There is no pled!

Oh, that didn't seem to work very well.
The main point is the verb to use with 'small talk' is 'make'. Eg We made small talk while waiting for the bus to come.
'I had a small talk with someone' to me suggests that there is some issue or grievance which needs to be settled in private; but possibly it is not used in this way in the US (or, who knows, by presidential candidates of the non-presidential variety ).

It would be relatively unusual to make 'small talk' countable; one could say "She gave a small talk on ....", but that would be using the phrase in its literal meaning.
"Small talk" usually means talking about the weather, some football game, the latest shade of lipstick (or whatever women consider inconsequential) , or some other non-weighty matters.
http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=+*+small+talk&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2C*%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bof%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bthe%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Band%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bmake%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bfor%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bno%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bmaking%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bmade%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bwith%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0

Pronunciation: aunt

"Aunt" should rhyme with "Haunt;" therefore I say ont.
Born in Arkansas but raised in California.

wtf? Maybe it's better, I prefer, then I would..

should this be of any help????

Pled versus pleaded

{t may be "old-fashioned, but then so am I. I go with "pled."

Nope

Would Nancy Reagan's Just Say No To Drugs campaign been more successful if it was Just Say Nope To Dope?

As comedian John Mulaney noted, In porn movies you hear lots of "Yea", "Oh Yeah","Uh-Huh","Mm-hmm","Yes YES!" but never "Yep"

age vs. aged

One of these areas included young adults and middle aged adults.

graduate high school simply goes against the grain , the structure of the language, that is why it sounds so illiterate ! It has nothing to do with idiomatic expressions. Whenever I hear it , as i did today on NBC News , it's a shock !!

With friend, the adverb form matches the adjective form. Both are "friendly".