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I'm reading in a newspaper:

"He is a neither-nor judge."

Is the phrase correct?

  • Any"thing" can be a noun. (Almost) any noun can be used as a modifier. Where's the problem? – Kris Apr 24 '14 at 13:00
  • neither-nor is a loaded expression. – Kris Apr 24 '14 at 13:00
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    The usage has no meaningful level of currency. Whether it's "correct" or not is a matter of opinion, but I wouldn't bother even having an opinion unless you can cite the context. I've heard of someone being called an either-or person to mean they tend to see things in absolute, black-and-white terms. But I couldn't begin to guess what two things a neither-nor judge might conventionally be assumed to be rejecting. – FumbleFingers Apr 24 '14 at 13:01
  • @FumbleFingers Could it be someone who always finds a middle ground? Take it away from the context of a legal judge (guilty or innocent with no room for middle ground) and into the judging of a best cake competition and that might open some possibilities where it could describe someone who would never judge a cake as 'delicious' (the ultimate) and he would never judge a cake as 'unpalatable' (the worst), everything would fall into various degrees of 'nice'. The opposite of either-or. – Frank Apr 24 '14 at 13:16
  • @Frank I think your understanding matches the Google examples I've found, which I've listed in my answer below. – Alicja Z Apr 24 '14 at 13:53
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Both grammatically and logically, this is fine.

Grammatically, this phrase is in parallel to structures such as "a yes-and attitude", "a potato-potahto disagreement" or even "a two-birds-one-stone situation".

As for the meaning (and thus also whether or not the phrase is logical), a quick glance through Google yielded such examples as:

"...that made him a “neither/nor” person (neither aristocratic nor plebeian, neither amateur nor specialist, neither reliant on patrons nor fully independent, etc.)"

"a neither/nor person who is neither ethnic nor religious, neither affirmer nor denier of Jewishness or Judaism"

"someone who falls between stable categories, a neither-nor person; neither leader nor colleague"

All of these seem to imply that the person in question is the opposite of an either/or person (who tends to think in extremes or be characterised in such terms) - so a person that somehow fits in in the middle ground between two opposing viewpoints, skill levels, etc.

In your particular case, I imagine a neither/nor judge might be one that is, for instance, neither a Republican or a Democrat; or perhaps neither extremely pro-abortion or anti-abortion, etc etc.

That said, more context would be needed to properly decipher what the author actually meant in this particular case...

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Grammatically it is fine, but without more context it is hard to know what the columnist means by this. Perhaps the judge tries to find novel "win/win" outcomes for his or her cases rather than choosing one side over another - neither A nor B, but C.

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