I'm in a strange situation where I need to take two short phrases and make them into plural nouns. Here's the context:

His was the destabilizing blow in a long bombardment of Why Latin?’s and waste of time’s.

The "Why Latin's" and "waste of time's" are obviously the problem. Do I italicize them? Use quotes? And how do I make them plural? Do I use apostrophes?

  • I am not sure I understand. Who is he leveling a blow at? – Lambie Dec 24 '17 at 18:31
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    What is a why-Latin supposed to be, and how can you have more than one of them? Have you left out a noun? – tchrist Dec 24 '17 at 19:25
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    @tchrist Constant questions from students about why they need to study Latin (“Why Latin? I’ll never use it!”), or from the marketing department about why the company motto has to be in Latin (“Why Latin? We could get a 60% click through rate if we just said ‘cheese is life’ in English!”), or someone studying Perligata and saying (“... Why? Why Latin? Just ... why?”), or someone studying Latin and the 634 verb conjugations and 914 noun declensions and 1,423 irregular exceptions (“Why, Latin? Why u lik dis?”). – Dan Bron Dec 24 '17 at 19:47
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    @DanBron I now desperately want to find the company that has caseus vita est as its motto. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 25 '17 at 1:39
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    'twas an attempted pune, or play on wordes ... sorry :o) – Will Crawford Dec 25 '17 at 5:37

I am assuming both "Why Latin?" and "Waste of time" are actual quotes (probably from disgruntled Latin students.) As such, I would keep them between quotation marks.

There are no hard and fast rules about whether the pluralizing 's' should go inside or outside the closing quotation mark. In my opinion, it should go outside so the quoted phrase (or title) remains unaltered.

Also, as each quote is a stand-alone phrase, I would capitalize them both.

His was the destabilizing blow in a long bombardment of "Why Latin?"s and "Waste of time"s.

The other option, of course, is to rephrase it and avoid the pluralizing of the quotations altogether. I suppose that's a question of clarity vs. creativity.

  • That rephrasing could simply be removing the plural. They work fine as singular. – fectin Dec 25 '17 at 2:07
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    No, it's better as Paul's phrased it. echo of upvote noise – Will Crawford Dec 25 '17 at 2:27
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    Except that he needs a ! after time. ;o) – Will Crawford Dec 25 '17 at 2:28
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    +1 for suggesting something which makes it abundantly clear what the original utterances were. In the absence of a suitable reference to an official APA style document, preserving that distinction between quoted text and the author's text seems like the next-best principle to use. – Soron Dec 25 '17 at 17:25

I'd probably italicize rather than using quotation marks, and hyphenate the phrases in question. Something like this:

"Her constant barrage of what-ifs and when-will-wes made the trip tiresome."


Paul B example is correct here - and his comment about rephrasing is on point. Best to word it differently to just avoid the situation:

His was the destabilizing blow after many instances of "Why Latin?" and "waste of time".

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