Foolscap #atozchallenge


Years ago, I read an article about the composer George M. Cohan. It mentioned that he wrote all his songs “on foolscap paper with a pencil.” I had a general idea what he meant, figuring okay, foolscap is probably inexpensive paper, and that’s as far as it went. Anyway, as I was going through the word list, I found the word “foolscap,” and decided to find out for certain what it was.

Anyway, The Blogger’s Best Friend ™ tells us that foolscap is paper that’s 8 ½” x 13 ½”. It got its name because of the watermark that was placed on (in?) the paper that looked like a fool’s cap and bells.

A fool’s cap (source: Wikimedia Commons)

This is roughly the size of a sheet from a US legal pad, which is 8 ½” x 14″. So Cohan probably used a legal pad.

Except for the US, Canada, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic, the rest of the world has moved on and now uses the ISO 216 standard sizes for paper. The most common size is A4, 210 mm x 297 mm, or roughly 8.3″ x 11.7″. Foolscap is sometimes referred to as F4 paper, but that’s not an official standard.

Like I always say, the things you learn in this job…

21 thoughts on “Foolscap #atozchallenge

  1. Foolscap paper was a very familiar term for the standard folio paper size in the Imperial measure during my British upbringing. The transition to metric measure took place over a few years so we had to learn both systems as children in my generation and many people still use Imperial measurements and maybe both. I’d never known or maybe didn’t remember the watermark issue though. i think we were told it was called foolscap because it was the standard size paper used by the legal profession.


  2. I did not know that! Hopefully, this information will come in particularly handy during an upcoming episode of Jeopardy!


    1. Jeopardy! tends to come back to the same subjects a lot for its questions: Darwin’s “Origins of the Species,” Lesotho, Shakespeare’s plays, etc. Foolscap has been mentioned a few times.

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  3. I’m sorry, but I guess I’m out in left field here somewhere because I never heard of a fool’s cap. I’ve heard of a dunce cap, but I guess that’s no where near what you’re talking about. I will say one thing when you want to know about something you’re all full steam ahead. I like that about you. My dad was just like that and he use to say, “It’s a good thing to learn something new every day”! Oh wait.. now what was that it makes a man… healthy, wealthy and wise?? I think that’s the way it goes! Have a great weekend my friend!


  4. Hi John – it’s interesting how words came about … and the paper I use in England to that I find over here … disconcerting to me!! But I didn’t know about the fool’s cap and bells …. fascinating!! Cheers Hilary


    1. I re-read the article, which said 8.5×13.5 is “foolscap folio” size, usually shortened to just “foolscap.” The full sheet (also called “foolscap”) is 17×13.5, basically two folio sheets side-by-side. So the answer, I guess, is “yes.” 😉

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