One of the areas I have focused on in my studies of linguistics is compound words, so when I recently came across the compound word green collar worker I was very excited. I find it interesting to see how new words make it into the lexicon and how people are able to interpret them.
Some of my previous work on compound words has relied on Professor Mary Ellen Ryder's idea of using "linguistic templates" for interpreting novel compound words. Ryder predicts that a listener, upon encountering a new compound, will look to his or her stock of established compounds and the semantic schemas developed from them to interpret the compound, these are what she call "linguistic templates." The particular template a listener chooses to use in interpreting a new compound is what she calls the "analogy base." For example, given a novel compound such as whitemail, a listener would look to existing compounds and end up using blackmail as an analogy base.
So when it comes to the compound word green collar worker, people will, most likely, immediately think of the compounds white collar and blue collar workers to interpret the word. Little did I know that there are also gold, pink and grey collar workers as well.
The collar workers are defined as follows:
Green Collar - A worker who is employed in one of the environmental or agricultural sectors of the economy.
Gold Collar - Low-income, workers who invest in conspicuous luxury.
Pink Collar - A person who has a job that is traditionally considered a womens' job because the work does not require as much professional training and does not have the same pay or prestige as jobs that are traditionally considered mens' jobs.
Grey Collar - Workers that have jobs that include elements of both blue and white collar jobs, or workers in jobs that are entirely different from both white and blue collar jobs. Also, occasionally used to describe a person who works past the normal age of retirement
A final note on Ryder's "linguistic templates," I believe they also provide a basis for generating new compounds and likely contributed to the formation of each of the compound words discussed above.