Meanings and origins - greenhorn

Posted by James Briggs on January 31, 2002

In Reply to: meanings and origins - seer??? posted by Marian on January 31, 2002

: : : : : can anyone give me the meanig and orgin of the following prases, "bank teller" "sleep like a top" and"greenhorn"

: : : : A bank teller is a person who works behind the counter in a bank, serving customers. An old meaning of "tell" was "count," and tellers count money.
: : : : To sleep like a top is to sleep very deeply and soundly. I don't know why that's called sleeping like a top. Possibly the reason is that when a spinning top (the child's toy) stops spinning, it comes to a complete stop and lies utterly still.
: : : : A greenhorn is a recent immigrant who hasn't yet learned the ways of his or her new country, or, more generally, anyone who is inexperienced, immature, or gullible. The word originally referred to young animals with immature horns, like deer and elk.

: : : Also, the use of green to denote immaturity comes from the woods. Green timber being that which isn't yet seasoned. Hence the rhyme relating to ash, which burns especially well:

: : : Seer or green,
: : : fit for a queen

: : : (seer = seasoned)

: : : or alternatively:

: : : wet or dry,
: : : fit for a queen to warm her slippers by.

: : I thought that seer (or as I know it, sere) meant dry or desiccated - with added connotations of decayed. There's a quotation from Macbeth that supports this, if the word is the same one:-

: : "I have lived long enough: my way of life
: : Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf,
: : And that which should accompany old age,
: : As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
: : I must not look to have.'

: My copy uses the spelling 'sear,' and this word is defined in the glossarial notes as 'dry, withered.' William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, copyright 1969 by Penguin Books Inc., general editor Alfred Harbage.

A suggestion on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow a couple of years ago is as follows - I can't say that I find it completely convincing, but it's worth an airing!

Another suggested origin goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries and the jewellery manufacturing industry. Some items of decoration were a bit like cameo brooches, only made from horn and inset in to silver frames. The horn was usually decorated with a figure, often a head, and this was impressed in the brown horn by heating the horn to a specific temperature and shaping over a mould. Too high a temperature would result in the horn ending up, not its original and desired brown, but green. Such an outcome was regularly produced by the apprentices - hence they came to be called greenhorns