on paper,
    1. in written or printed form.
    2. in theory rather than in practice.
    3. existing only in a preliminary state; in a plan or design: The university building program is still only on paper.

Origin of paper

1325–75; Middle English papire < Latin papȳrus papyrus
Related formspa·per·less, adjectivepa·per·like, adjectivere·pa·per, verb (used with object)un·pa·pered, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for paper

Contemporary Examples of paper

Historical Examples of paper

  • I've got a New York paper giving an account of the whole thing.

    Brave and Bold

    Horatio Alger

  • He went over to the desk and began to scribble a name on the pad of paper.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • Fouts, with a slip of paper in his hand, beckoned him from the door of his private office.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • A broken kitchen knife had been thrust through a bit of the paper on the box.

  • But thou knowest their characters; and I will not therefore sully my paper with them.

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

British Dictionary definitions for paper



a substance made from cellulose fibres derived from rags, wood, etc, often with other additives, and formed into flat thin sheets suitable for writing on, decorating walls, wrapping, etcRelated adjective: papyraceous
a single piece of such material, esp if written or printed on
(usually plural) documents for establishing the identity of the bearer; credentials
Also called: ship's papers (plural) official documents relating to the ownership, cargo, etc, of a ship
(plural) collected diaries, letters, etc
a lecture or short published treatise on a specific subject
a short essay, as by a student
  1. a set of written examination questions
  2. the student's answers
commerce See commercial paper
theatre slang a free ticket
on paper in theory, as opposed to factit was a good idea on paper, but failed in practice


made of paperpaper cups do not last long
thin like paperpaper walls
(prenominal) existing only as recorded on paper but not yet in practicepaper profits; paper expenditure
taking place in writingpaper battles


to cover (walls) with wallpaper
(tr) to cover or furnish with paper
(tr) theatre slang to fill (a performance) by giving away free tickets (esp in the phrase paper the house)
See also paper over
Derived Formspaperer, noun

Word Origin for paper

C14: from Latin papyrus
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for paper

mid-14c., from Anglo-French paper, Old French papier "paper, document," from Latin papyrus "paper, paper made of papyrus stalks" (see papyrus).

Meaning "paper money" attested from 1722. As shortened form of newspaper, first attested 1640s. In plural, "collection of papers to establish one's identity, credentials, etc.," it is attested from 1680s. Paper chase is British slang from 1932.


1590s, "to write down on paper," from paper (n.). Meaning "to decorate a room with paper hangings" is from 1774. Related: Papered; papering. Verbal phrase paper over in the figurative sense is from 1955, from the notion of hiding plaster cracks with wallaper.


1590s, from paper (n.). Figurative of something flimsy or unsubstantial from 1716. Paper tiger (1952) translates Chinese tsuh lao fu, popularized by Mao Zedong. Paper doll attested from 1849; paper plate from 1723.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with paper


In addition to the idiom beginning with paper

  • paper over

also see:

  • on paper
  • push paper
  • walking papers
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.