In dutch it is pretty much the same as the English, "Either-or" is "Of...of." and just "or" is just "of" but since they have virtually the same meaning they are almost completely interchangeable.
Consider the difference between:
You can have fish or meat. (je kunt vis of vlees hebben)
And: You can either have fish or meat. (je kunt of vis of vlees hebben)
They are only not interchangeable when the option to have both is completely taken off the table (either-or)
The first time I saw this sentence, I thought the same as you, and wrote the same as you; and, Duo slapped my hand!
This time, however, I used 'neither...nor' even though my mind resisted. Instead of writing 'meat', my mean, ornery streak used 'flesh', and lo and behold (I'm always surprised when Duo accepts something that is reasonable), it passed!
This is an idiomatic expression, which we still use in Afrikaans as well, except that we would use the other "noch" (Dit is nog vis nog vlees), and the closest English equivalent would be "It's neither fish nor fowl", although my old Chambers dictionary has "It's neither fish, flesh nor fowl."
Well, it's a slightly odd sounding because 1.) You've used "not . . . nor", when we'd expect to hear either "not . . . or," or "neither . . . nor." "Not/nor" is less common, but you're welcome to use it if you want to play around with style.
2.) You've used the contraction "isn't" before "nor". Using a paired not/nor or neither/nor creates a cadence and balance in the sentence--which you've just thrown off kilter with your contraction. "Neither/nor" also draws attention to the negation because you have to slow down--it's supposed to lend gravity to your sentence. Try saying aloud, "Not this nor that; neither young nor old; neither waking nor sleeping"--can you hear how you have to articulate the words more, how there's an almost irresistible hesitation in the middle of each phrase? If you've ever pushed a child on a little swing, you'll notice that there's a hesitation each time the swing reaches its peak, and that's what a "neither/nor", or "either/or" does. Back, and forth, and back, and forth.
Again, it's not bad, but you're missing the opportunity to use it well. The "isn't" swallows up the "not," so that only the "nor" gets emphasized. If you're going to use "not/nor" here, I'd suggest slowing down the beginning of your sentence to "It is not fish nor meat," so that you get the balance back. If you'd rather use a contraction, use "it's not" instead of "it isn't" so that the "not" is still preserved: "It's not fish nor meat." A lot of the meaning - the sense - of the pairing, comes from its rhythm. If you want to say, "It's not-" or "It isn't-" to start off, it balances better to end with "-fish or meat" because, like the contraction at the beginning, it takes away some of the emphasis from the negation.
Ayisha, you always give the best explanations, very erudite.
One comment though: I tend to use 'It's not' frequently and automatically. Unfortunately, many times it comes away sounding like "It snot", yet I rarely slur my words.
If this works the way it should, I'll be sending you a lingot.
I remember my sixth grade English teacher telling the class not to use 'not...nor'. Sorry, I don't remember the specific reason. (Maybe something about it forming a double negative?)
On the other hand, I also remember an English professor in College stating that one should use 'not...nor' rather than 'not...or', but then, he also did not want anyone to use 'whether...or not', only 'whether'.
In French we call that Champignon de Paris, maybe that's why the Dutch kept the french word champignon :)
Both "Het is vis, niet vlees." and "Het is vis, geen vlees" are correct."
In a sentence like this one 'geen' and 'niet' have the same meaning, but we might you them with a slightly different nuance. When it's about the word that's incorrect I would use 'niet' and when it's the matter, I would use 'geen'. Example:
Het Nederlandse woord is 'heg' en niet 'hedge'. Dat is een heg, geen struik.
You could see 'geen' as the equivalent of 'not a(n)' and 'niet' just as the equivalent of 'not'.
The two sentences above would translate to:
The Dutch word is 'heg' and not 'hedge'. That is a hedge, not a bush.
Aha! Apparently 'Neither fish, flesh nor good red herring' refers to the three classes of people in medieval England - the clergy ate fish, the well off ate meat and the poor ate salted fish. If you didn't fit any of those categories then you were a nothing, outside society completely. So I have learned something today. Does any native speaker know if the Dutch had/have a similar saying?
What distinction in modern Dutch is there between "nog" and "noch"? I understand that in a large part of the Netherlands "g" and "ch" are pronounced identically, and I believe they are etymologically the same, so do the Dutch actually think of these as two distinct words with different meanings?