I've been looking for the etymology of the word greensheet, specifically when used in the context of academia.

I know it's just another way to say "syllabus", but where did the "green" in greentext come from? I've searched Google multiple times using different keywords, including greensheet word etymology, origins of greensheet word, where does the word greensheet come from but am having no luck at all.

In the U.S., the greensheet is the syllabus all college professors will give out or ask students to take note of in the first few days of classes.

  • from the old wet-copying machines perhaps? Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 2:00
  • OED does not contain a reference to green text, greensheet or green sheet.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 6:04
  • @AndrewLeach google.com/… This is a fairly common term that many professors use to describe the syllabus for their class
    – yuritsuki
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 16:15
  • I wasn't saying it wasn't used; I was commenting that OED didn't record its use. It is notable that the top 40 links in that Google search [I didn't look any further] are all American.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 16:18
  • @AndrewLeach Should I tag it as US or american now or something?
    – yuritsuki
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 16:21

3 Answers 3


I did a bit of a deep web crawl on this, as I've never heard a syllabus called a greensheet. This made me curious as to whether it might be regional.

I saw several uses of the word as a replacement for syllabus (often with syllabus in parenthesis as well). Several of these uses were as old as 2006. I decided to limit my search to anything before 2006 and found a single web page discussing the use of the word greensheet as a synonym for syllabus: http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/style.htm. The purpose of the page isn't even to explain the word (it's all about style sheets and only mentions why a syllabus is called a greensheet in passing).

I hit a dead end after this discovery. However, that explanation could very well be the answer. Consider: I went to school on the east coast (at three different schools) and never heard a syllabus called a greensheet. SJSU is on the west coast and uses the term greensheet to refer to a syllabus. Proposition: The word greensheet started either at SJSU or, at least, in that geographical area because the syllabi were/are printed on green paper.


I've never run across an academic use of greensheet and wonder what it means thee.

Brokerage houses distribute information about new issues to their associates, describing the security, and its merits and drawbacks, so they can do a good job of foisting it on investors. Because the information is about green (immature) investments, and it's printed on paper, it's a greensheet.

A syllabus is also a sales document, if you think about it, and often the course taught was somewhat difference that what was planned in the syllabus, so it may be that they borrowed the terminology of another enterprise that also markets overpriced dreams to the gullible.

  • 1
    Well that escalated quickly. Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 20:35

I attended four different US undergrad schools, a US law school, and a Chinese economics school's master of laws program, and I have never heard of a greensheet. Like other commentators, however, I found that the Google God declares it is The Truth.

First, an Ngram:

Ngram of greensheet

I did not include before 1920 because there were zero uses before then.

Blackboard software

Many colleges use a program called Blackboard, and Google Fu suggests that the "Syllabus Template" uses green text as a "placeholder" to tell the instructor to replace all of the green text. But, to jump from green text to greensheet is difficult to believe.


At Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, each instructor must give their syllabus to the administration and the syllabus must be color-coded based on department. Green is for the College of Business. I doubt that green is related to business schools, however, because most other uses do not seem connected to a department, see for example, Foothill Handbook. Nevertheless, it is possible that some long-forgotten bureaucratic decision requiring syllabi to be on green paper spawned this idiom.

Good luck!

It seems that greensheet is only used at a few institutions, so that makes it unlikely that some random person on Stack Exchange will know the answer. The Ngram suggests that the usage of the term is fairly new, however, so if someone were truly industrious, there are likely many people still alive who could help discover the origin.


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