Greenhorn vs tinhorn

Greenhorn and tinhorn are two words that are considered American English by the Oxford English Dictionary, though the word greenhorn definitely predates the founding of the United States. We will examine the definitions of the words greenhorn and tinhorn, where these two words came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

A greenhorn is an inexperienced person or a person who is new to an endeavor. The plural form is greenhorns. Often used in the American Old West, the word greenhorn actually has its roots in England in the 1400s when it was used to describe an ox with new or green horns. Several hundred years later in the 1600s, the term greenhorn was used to describe new army recruits who were inexperienced. While greenhorn does not specifically refer to a naive or easily duped person, someone who is inexperienced or new to a situation may fall into that category. Note that greenhorn is a closed compound word which is a word made up of two separate words joined together.

A tinhorn is a person who puts on a show of having wealth, talent or influence but in truth has none of those things. The plural form is tinhorns. Unlike the word greenhorn, tinhorn definitely has its roots in the American Old West. During the mid-1800s, a gambling game that involved shaking dice in a tin can gained popularity. The game is called chuck-a-luck, and involves wagering on the outcome of the throw of three dice from a tin can or tin horn. The game was considered a cheap and low class diversion, and the men taking part were derisively called tinhorn gamblers. Note that tinhorn is also a closed compound word.


From the ministry being handled by a Cabinet minister and an old party hand M Venkaiah Naidu to a minister of state independent charge and a political greenhorn Hardeep Singh Puri – the message ahead of 2019 parliamentary elections does not gel with the Modi government’s rhetoric so far. (The Economic Times)

The people who pose as our leaders have been busy insisting that the great danger to our Republic comes from a tinhorn despot in Pyongyang, a group of fanatics hiding in caves in Afghanistan and Central Americans sneaking across the Mexican border. (The Asheville Citizen-Times)

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