Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Chiefly British A sheet of writing or printing paper measuring approximately 13 by 16 inches.
  • n. A fool's cap.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. Alternative form of fool's cap.
  • n. Writing paper sheets measuring 13.25 x 16.5 inches
  • n. Such a sheet folded or cut in half, thus approximately 8 x 13.25 inches.
  • n. Printing paper measuring 13.5 inches x 17 inches.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. a cap or hood to which bells were usually attached, formerly worn by professional jesters.
  • n. A writing paper made in sheets, ordinarily 16 x 13 inches, and folded so as to make a page 13 x 8 inches. See paper.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. See fool's cap, under fool.
  • n. A writing-paper, usually folded, varying in size from 12 × 15 to 12½ × 16 inches: so called from its former watermark, the outline of a fool's head and cap, for which other devices are now substituted.
  • n. A bivalve mollusk, Isocardia cor, better known as heart-shell.
  • Of the size known as foolscap.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a cone-shaped paper hat formerly placed on the head of slow or lazy pupils
  • n. a size of paper used especially in Britain

Etymologies

From the watermark of a fool's cap with bells originally used for this paper.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Probably from a watermark of a fool's cap. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The next day I bought two sheets of foolscap from the schoolmaster, and after tea I betook myself to the granary, barred the door, and fell to writing my sermon.

    The Story Girl

  • Just stumbled over the 'foolscap' comment, some months after you wrote it.

    languagehat.com: FOOLSCAP.

  • I had a notion that "foolscap" was paper that was of poor quality, normally not used for writing, but fibrous enough to be used for printing.

    languagehat.com: FOOLSCAP.

  • Mr Counsellor Fielding follows his retrospect of this strenuous attack on the law with a declaration that, henceforth, he intends to forsake the pursuit of that 'foolscap' literary fame, and the company of the

    Henry Fielding: a Memoir

  • In Germany (and some other continental countries) there is a yellow plaque - not larger than a 'foolscap' (A 4 size) sheet of paper - displayed at the entrance to every building site.

    Irish Blogs

  • Mr Counsellor Fielding follows his retrospect of this strenuous attack on the law with a declaration that, henceforth, he intends to forsake the pursuit of that 'foolscap' literary fame, and the company of the 'infamous' nine Muses; a decision based partly on the insubstantial nature of the rewards achieved, and partly it would seem due to the fact that at Fielding's innocent door had been laid, he declares, half the anonymous scurrility, indecency, treason, and blasphemy that the few last years had produced.

    Henry Fielding A Memoir

  • a lengthy dispatch covering, at least, two columns of "foolscap," and sent to the Brigade.

    Three years in France with the Guns: Being Episodes in the life of a Field Battery

  • I immediately took out some foolscap and a quill and began this account of all that had transpired.

    Laurence Hughes: Ahab at Starbucks

  • Garrick pulled free a heavy sheet of foolscap from his coat.

    Earl of Durkness

  • He sat at his desk, withdrawing a sheet of foolscap from the drawer.

    Earl of Durkness

Comments

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  • From p. 12 of Patrick Leigh Fermor's "A Time to Keep Silence":

    Back in my cell, I sat down before the new blotter and pens and sheets of clean foolscap.

    January 21, 2014

  • I read a Sherlock Holmes story once where Watson used this word and he expended quite a lot of it in writing up the case.

    February 5, 2012

  • Damned Roundheads.

    May 28, 2009

  • Here's a nice writeup about the foolscap watermark, middlesmith.

    Sionnach, my understanding is that the story you tell is apocryphal. The foolscap watermark had actually been in use since the mid-15th century.

    May 28, 2009

  • Fascinating. I seem to remember examining an eighteenth-century book with a foolscap watermark. If the Rump Parliament ended (I reckon) around 1660 and took the foolscap mark with it, I guess I'm misremembering. Does anyone know whether paper makers kept using the watermark unofficially into the 1700's?

    May 28, 2009

  • Damned Roundheads.

    May 27, 2009

  • Everybody knows what “fools­cap�? paper is, but everybody does not know how it came to bear that name. In order to increase his revenues, Charles I. granted cer­tain privileges, amounting to monopolies, and among these was the manufacture of paper the exclusive right of which was sold to certain parties, who grew rich, and enriched the government at the expense of those who were obliged to use paper. At that time all English paper bore the royal arms in water-marks. The Parliament under Cromwell made sport of this law in every possible manner, and, among other indignities to the memory of Charles, it was ordered that the royal arms be removed from the paper, and that the fool’s cap and bells should be used as a substitute. When the Rump Parliament was prorogued, these were also removed; but paper of the size of the parliamentary journals, which are usually about seventeen by fourteen inches, still bears the name of “foolscap.�?

    From Gesta Typographica by Chas. Jacobi, 1897, page 27.

    May 27, 2009

  • And based on that paper size, there's also a couple of book sizes known by the same word: foolscap octavo and foolscap quarto.

    September 15, 2007

  • Wow. I hadn't a clue there's a goodly size (13"x16") associated with this paper.

    September 15, 2007