foolscap

noun

fools·​cap ˈfülz-ˌkap How to pronounce foolscap (audio)
variants or less commonly fool's cap
1
: a cap or hood usually with bells worn by jesters
2
: a conical cap for slow or lazy students
3
usually foolscap [from the watermark of a foolscap formerly applied to such paper] : a size of paper formerly standard in Great Britain
broadly : a piece of writing paper

Illustration of foolscap

Illustration of foolscap
  • foolscap 1

Did you know?

You’d be well within your rights to respond “Surely, you jest!” to the notion that foolscap refers to a sheet of writing paper, and also specifically to a paper size of approximately 8" x 13", similar to that of a legal pad. After all, when foolscap was first used in the 1500s, it referred to an actual fool’s cap—the oft jingling headwear worn as part of a jester’s motley (a sense still used today). But we promise we do not jest. The connection between the whimsical chapeau and the paper is attributable to the former use of a watermark depicting a fool’s cap that was used on long sheets of writing or printing paper. There are various explanations for the introduction of this watermark—including the claim that a 1648 British parliamentary group substituted it for the royal arms during exceptionally turbulent times—but such explanations remain unsupported by historical evidence.

Examples of foolscap in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Think of Dickens and piles of foolscap and quill pens and Bob Cratchit. John Kass, chicagotribune.com, 4 July 2019

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'foolscap.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1577, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of foolscap was in 1577

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Cite this Entry

“Foolscap.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/foolscap. Accessed 29 Feb. 2024.

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