from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A material made of cellulose pulp, derived mainly from wood, rags, and certain grasses, processed into flexible sheets or rolls by deposit from an aqueous suspension, and used chiefly for writing, printing, drawing, wrapping, and covering walls.
  • noun A single sheet of this material.
  • noun One or more sheets of paper bearing writing or printing, especially.
  • noun A formal written composition intended to be published, presented, or read aloud; a scholarly essay or treatise.
  • noun A piece of written work for school; a report or theme.
  • noun An official document, especially one establishing the identity of the bearer.
  • noun A collection of letters, diaries, and other writings, especially by one person.
  • noun Short-term debt instruments, especially commercial paper.
  • noun A newspaper.
  • noun Wallpaper.
  • noun A wrapper made of paper, often with its contents.
  • noun A free pass to a theater.
  • noun The audience admitted with free passes.
  • transitive verb To cover, wrap, or line with paper.
  • transitive verb To cover with wallpaper.
  • transitive verb To supply with paper.
  • transitive verb Slang To issue free passes for (a theater, for example).
  • transitive verb To construct (something) in haste and with little forethought.
  • adjective Made of paper.
  • adjective Resembling paper, as in thinness or flimsiness.
  • adjective Of or relating to clerical work.
  • adjective Existing only in printed or written form.
  • adjective Planned but not realized; theoretical.
  • idiom (in paper) With a paperback binding; as a paperback.
  • idiom (on paper) In writing or print.
  • idiom (on paper) In theory, as opposed to actual performance or fact.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A sheet or piece of paper used to wrap up and carry small articles: as, a paper of nuts, a paper of soap.
  • noun A folded paper with needles or pins stuck through it in rows: as, a paper of pins, a paper of needles.
  • noun Sometimes applied to papier-mâché and other manufactured articles which are made with paper-pulp.
  • noun plural Credentials.
  • To line or cover with paper, or apply paper to in any way; also, to cover with paper-hangings.
  • To fold or inclose in paper.
  • In book-binding, to paste the end-papers and fly-leaves at the beginning and end of (a volume), before fitting it in its covers.
  • To treat in any way by means of paper; perform any operation on, such as some kinds of polishing, in which paper enters as a material or medium; sandpaper, or smooth by means of sandpaper.
  • To fill, as a theater or other place of amusement, with all audience mostly admitted by paper—that is, by free passes; fill with non-paying spectators: as, the house was papered nightly during his engagement.
  • To register; note or set down on paper.
  • noun A material consisting of a compacted web felting of vegetable fibers, commonly in the form of a thin, flexible sheet: used in writing, for printing, and for various other purposes.
  • noun A piece, leaf, or sheet of this material.
  • noun Any written or printed document or instrument, as a note, receipt, bill, invoice, bond, memorial, deed, etc.: specifically, in the plural letters, notes, memoranda, etc.: as, the private papers of Washington.
  • noun A printed sheet of news; a newspaper; a journal.
  • noun An essay or article; a dissertation on a special topic.
  • noun Negotiable evidences of indebtedness, such as promissory notes, bills of exchange, etc.: used collectively: as, commercial paper; negotiable paper.
  • noun The written or printed questions, collectively, set for an examination.
  • noun Hangings of paper, printed, stamped, or plain; paper for covering the walls of interiors. See paper-hangings and wall-paper.
  • noun Free passes of admission to a place of entertainment; also, the persons admitted by such passes: as, the house was filled with paper.
  • noun A very thin, soft paper, of a faint yellowish or brownish tint, prepared from the bark of the bamboo. It is much used for fine impressions from wood-engravings, and occasionally for proofs from steel-plate engravings, etc.


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

[Middle English, from Old French papier, from Latin papȳrus, papyrus plant, papyrus paper, from Greek papūros.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Anglo-Norman paper, from Old French papier, from Latin papyrus, from Ancient Greek πάπυρος (papyros).


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word paper.


  • An artifact kind identified by a common description or concept can include several subtypes or species; for example, there are different paper clip types for which their authors (that is, their inventors) obtained separate patents; these fall under the more general artifact kind ˜paper clip™.

    Artifact Hilpinen, Risto 2004

  • And I'm still damn stressed cuz in 2 weeks 'time will be our science practical mid-year paper, and in 1 month's time will be our mid-year paper… damn…

    babycartercl Diary Entry babycartercl 2004

  • The sensitive paper may be readily prepared, the only requisite quality in the _paper_ itself being its ability to stand washing.

    Scientific American Supplement, No. 514, November 7, 1885 Various

  • The volume is chiefly printed on paper _made from straw_; the appendix is on _paper made from wood alone_.

    Notes and Queries, Number 34, June 22, 1850 A Medium of Inter-communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, etc Various 1852

  • We have all had occasion to write on our hand, either because no paper was available or because we knew we'd probably forget the bit of ­paper along with the thing we'd written on it

    The Guardian World News 2010

  • We have all had occasion to write on our hand, either because no paper was available or because we knew we'd probably forget the bit of ­paper along with the thing we'd written on it

    The Guardian World News Tim Dowling 2010

  • Hanging on paper, and yet weighed down by leavy burdens* Trade necefijury to Enable us to fuppbrt an enox - motts debt; and yet that debt, together with an excefs of paper* money, working continually towards the dcftruAion of trade. —

    The Monthly Review 1774

  • •ale, 250 on Targe paper, and 1750 on small paper*

    Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century: Comprising Biographical Memoirs of William Bowyer ... John Nichols, Samuel Bentley 1812

  • It was wrapped in snowman wrapping paper inside her old brown bag that she bought her bathing suit in last summer, stuffed with Victoria Secret’s pink and white tissue paper…

    goldylockz22 Diary Entry goldylockz22 2003

  • “In point of _direct_ sensibility, the chrysotype paper is certainly inferior to the calotype; but it is one of the most remarkable peculiarities of gold as a photographic ingredient, that _extremely feeble impressions once made by light go on afterwards, darkening spontaneously and very slowly, apparently without limit so long as the least vestige of unreduced chloride of gold remains in the paper_.

    Photographic Reproduction Processes Peter C. Duchochois


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • No piece of square dry paper can be folded more than 7 times in half.

    May 7, 2008

  • It's true. My kids and I tried it. I could not believe it was true until I tried it myself.

    May 7, 2008

  • Wow. That's cool, a.

    August 10, 2010

  • -page


    October 19, 2010

  • "Another common trade item was paper, invented during the second century BCE, and surely a far greater contributor to human history than silk, which was used primarily for garments. Paper moved out of China via these overland routes first into the Islamic world in the eighth century, and then to Europe via its Islamic portals in Sicily and Spain. People north of the Alps made their own paper only in the late fourteenth century."

    --Valerie Hansen, The Silk Road: A New History (Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 2012), 5-6

    "... paper was first used as a wrapping material and not for writing. ... Not until four centuries later, in the second century CE, did paper come into widespread use as writing material in China. It took even longer for paper to replace wood and bamboo as the most common writing material along the Silk Road. Because paper was always expensive, people wrote on other materials like leather and tree bark. The documents at Xuanquan consist mostly of wooden slips tied together to form bunches (much like a placemat made from Popsicle sticks).

    "... The scribes at Xuanquan distinguished among different types of wood: they reserved higher-quality pine for the imperial edicts and used poplar and tamarisk, which warped easily, for routine documents and correspondence."

    ditto, p. 15

    December 30, 2016

  • Does anybody have a list about paper and/or papermaking yet?

    July 25, 2018

  • I have a list called tree-free paper alternatives.

    July 25, 2018

  • I just noticed this definition from the Century: "In book-binding, to paste the end-papers and fly-leaves at the beginning and end of (a volume), before fitting it in its covers."

    July 25, 2018