The term “green” refers to someone who is not yet experienced in a particular field or activity. Being green can apply in many facets of life, but the term is probably most often used in conjunction with someone who is new at his or her profession, position, or hobby.
If a newly hired police officer on the beat mishandles a situation, it might be attributed to that officer being green. Later, after the officer gets some experience under his or her belt, the department would not expect the same kind of mistakes or misjudgments on the officer’s part. The same can be said of a lawyer who has recently passed the bar and has not yet handled many cases. Medical interns are another example of people who could be said to be green.
Aside from law enforcement, medical, and legal professions, being green can apply to corporate and blue-collar positions. A person hired from the outside to become a department head might be green, even if he or she held a similar position elsewhere. This is because every company runs differently and has its own politics. An engineer who has just been trained to use new machinery will be green on that equipment.
Because being green has more to do with a lack of experience, it is not synonymous with uneducated. The term is also more often applied to situations in which being green can have fairly significant to very serious ramifications if mistakes are made. These might be life-threatening in the case of an officer or prison guard, or they could be financial in the case of a stockbroker or investor. A young, upstart company that achieves success ‘overnight’ might very well have a green chief executive officer.
More often, younger people are referred to as green, though the term might be used playfully with someone older and skilled when a change of position occurs. However, the term’s appropriateness diminishes once a certain amount of general experience is accumulated through life. Finally, being green can also apply to scuba diving, parachuting, race car driving and other sports or hobbies that can have potentially extreme consequences associated with mistakes. The term is used far less with “nonconsequential” hobbies like knitting, drawing, or music, though there might be circumstances where it would still apply when the hobby is taken to a professional level.