Quiet Couple Crabby

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Dear Crabby,

My wife and I used to lead very active social lives.

Now, we pretty much just stay at home and bicker. The problem is not that we want to change our lifestyle; both are content with things as they are.

The problem is: What do we call ourselves? She says we have become stick-in-the-muds, and I say it should be sticks-in-the-mud.

We have agreed to go with whatever you say. Thanks, Crabby.

Sincerely, One Stick

Dear Stick,

I turned 41 last month. I have a 21/2-year-old at home and another kid on the way. And all I want out of life anymore is to sit down and sigh really long sighs. Just languid, aimless, beautiful sighs. Sighs like early Jim Jarmusch films. Sighs that are earned. Sighs that contain both the strain of life and the relief of resignation.

Those kinds of sighs.

So I get the wanting-to-stay-in thing. Before my wife and I had our first kid, my brother, a parent of two, told me, “Don’t try to catch up on sleep. You never will. That’s over for you now.” It was the best parenting advice I got. Knowing in advance that I would be tired for the rest of my life has made the whole enterprise a little easier.

Despite all of that, I occasionally still make perfunctory gestures toward some kind of man-about-town, making-the-scene thing; it’s important to my vestigial cool-guy self-image. So once a week or so I force myself to venture beyond my own doorstep after 8 p.m.

I go out to the movies and fall asleep. Or I go to a play and fall asleep. Sometimes, if I’m feeling really hip and cool, I even fall asleep at rock concerts.

I’d be better off if I just let myself go full stick-in-the-mud like you and your wife. Then, 25 years from now (give or take), I can start going out and having fun again, like my parents did after all of us kids moved out. My mom is 69 and my dad is 77, and they have much more active social lives than my wife and I do right now.

I know none of that has anything to do with your question. But I needed to pad my response, because the answer you’re looking for is actually pretty straightforward: It’s “sticks-in-the-mud.” The rule for multiple-word compound nouns, as explained by the Associated Press Stylebook, is that you make the most significant word plural. So you have “attorneys general,” “daughters-in-law,” “passersby,” “major generals,” “assistant attorneys” and so forth. (If it’s a one-word compound noun such as “handful” or “boatload,” you just put the “s” at the end — “handfuls,” “boatloads.”)

Granted, the AP isn’t the sole arbiter in these cases. And some dictionaries do list both “sticks-in-the-mud” and “stick-in-the-muds,” but even in those cases “sticks” is always first-listed with “muds” being listed as an acceptable alternative. So go with “sticks-in-the-mud,” which, incidentally, is hyphenated as both a singular and a plural.

I hope that helps. I’m going to go lie down.

Sincerely, Crabby

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