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A clerk is a white-collar worker who conducts general office tasks, or a worker who performs similar sales-related tasks in a retail environment. Wikipedia

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  • It's by way of contrast to a blue-collar worker, who might well wear protective (often, blue) overalls, because he works in the more messy context of a factory shop floor or similar. May 31, 2015 at 23:12

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I would say it's a synonym for "clerical worker", but I see that would be circular with your example.

The term "white-collar" is a euphemism for someone whose job doesn't cause them to break a sweat, typically someone who works at a desk in an office, or possibly selling things in a store. White shirt collars notoriously show sweat stains, so someone who can work in a white collared shirt is someone who doesn't have to labor for their living.

As such, it's a term for a social class. The expression "white collar workers" is a polite way of referring to people who are not so wealthy they can dispense with employment all together, but of higher class than people who work with their hands. The polite term for the latter is "blue collar workers".

It is generally assumed that "white collar" workers are higher in status than "blue collar" workers, and often "white collar" workers are the direct superiors of "blue collar" workers, e.g. the factory manager is white collar, and the factory workers are blue collar.

If you are very interested in the topic of "white collar" as a social class in the US and more broadly in the English-speaking world, there is an absolutely fascinating in-depth article published last year about this: 'I Would Prefer Not To': The Origins of the White Collar Worker. It is very long, so I wouldn't recommend it to someone only casually interested. Otherwise a very highly recommended treatment of the topic.

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  • If you think white collar workers always earn more than blue collar workers, you've never had to hire a plumber :-)
    – jamesqf
    Jun 1, 2015 at 1:59
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    @jamesqf Nobody but you said anything about "earn". Jun 1, 2015 at 4:14
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It's a type of uniform.
White collar, from white shirt, a standart choice for a suit. Compare to a blue collar, a standart color for a work clothes or an uniform.
It's origins takes from 1945-1950.

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  • That may be misleading - blue collar doesn't mean "uniform" (-> e.g. police) but "work clothes, overalls". Please see @FumbleFinger's comment above.
    – Stephie
    May 31, 2015 at 23:25

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