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Unconfirmed. Hypotheses include:

  • Middle English greene horn, the horn of a newly slaughtered animal
  • From the reference to an animal with green (that is, young) horns
  • From 17th century jewelery manufacturing which used decorated horn which was impressed at a specific temperature. If heated too high (a common mistake by apprentices), the horn turned green.
  • From a misappropriation of the German expression "Grün hinter den Ohren" (to be green behind the ears).


greenhorn (plural greenhorns)

  1. (chiefly US) an inexperienced person; a novice, beginner or newcomer
    • 1847, George Frederick Augustus Ruxton, Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains (page 267)
      The powers of the Canadian voyageurs and hunters in the consumption of meat strike the greenhorn with wonder and astonishment; and are only equalled by the gastronomical capabilities exhibited by Indian dogs, both following the same plan in their epicurean gorgings.


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