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Usually, when a phrase acts as a single word, the noun in the phrase gets made plural. For instance, "mother in law" becomes "mothers in law" when made plural.

When discussing "man in the middle" attacks, it is common to call the attack a "man in the middle" or "a MITM."

The rule above would suggest that the plural would become "men in the middle." But unlike "mother in law," the noun in the phrase is not actually the thing that gets duplicated — it is instances of the whole phrase. That is, saying "men in the middle" seems to indicate a single attack perpetrated by multiple people; but in this case the intent is to refer to multiple attacks carried out by a single person.

As a result, I'm confused as to whether one should use "man in the middles" or "men in the middle" when referring to more than one man in the middle attack.

(Yes, I know the best solution in this case would probably be to avoid the problem and say "man in the middle attacks" which is unambiguous. But I'm curious anyway)

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4 Answers 4

I wouldn't pluralize it, and go with your suggested alternative instead:

man in the middle attacks

On the other hand, the initialism MITM can be pluralized as MITMs (see http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/words/initialisms-american).

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+1 that would be my recommendation also. Besides, "Men in the Middle" changes the meaning of the expression if you think of it visually. –  Kristina Lopez Feb 26 '13 at 18:15

If "man in the middle" is an generally accepted term (to your audience) for an attack, then you could talk about man in the middles. For example, I think a class of ship was a man of war (or man o' war), etc. That would be bad enough, but think about fighting against man o' wars.

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The plural of man-o'-war is men-o'-war. OED citation: "1975 J. V. Noel & E. L. Beach Naval Terms Dict. (ed. 3) 175 Most commissioned vessels of the [U.S.] Navy are men-of-war, but not all, e.g., a hospital ship." –  Andrew Leach Feb 26 '13 at 18:58
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For that matter, what about a Portuguese man-o'-war? –  Joe Z. Feb 26 '13 at 19:11
    
Sounds sexist and racist. –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 26 '13 at 19:36

I would add hyphens:

man-in-the-middles

I might even italicize:

man-in-the-middles

Though I suspect the best answer is, as you suggest, to add "attacks" on to the end.

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I'd hyphenate and add 'attacks': man-in-the-middle attacks. 'Man in the middle' is unitary and, especially when used as a premodifier, may be / is better hyphenated to show its compound nature. 'Man in the middle attacks' sounds like a headline describing an assault by a midfielder. –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 26 '13 at 19:43

In this case, "Man-in-the-middle" is a specific type of attack, therefore we treat it like a name and hyphenate it. NEVER would you say Men-in-the-middle or middles because a man-in-the-middle attack doesn't use multiple "men" per attack, two attacks would be two man-in-the-middle attacks, as stated above. Same goes for middle, but I would think that should be obvious.

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