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What is Foolscap?

Niki Acker
Updated May 23, 2024
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Foolscap is a size of paper, traditionally 13.5 inches (34.3 cm) by 17 inches (43.2 cm), although it might be a bit smaller. It is commonly divided into halves, and the paper size of 8.5 inches (21.6 cm) by 13.5 inches (34.3 cm) is known as foolscap folio or simply folio paper; the word "folio" means half a sheet of paper. The folio size might also be referred to as foolscap in some cases. Foolscap and foolscap folio were once widely used in certain parts of the world, such as England, but they have become less common than they once were. The term "foolscap" might also be used loosely to refer to any paper that is in a large format.


This size of paper became a standard paper size during the 15th century, when it was first produced in Germany. It gets its name — typically pronounced full-scap or full-scape — from the watermark that was once used to identify it. The watermark was in the shape of a jester's hat, or fool's cap. Full-size foolscap sheets were divided into halves, quarters and eighths to produce other standardized paper sizes, called folio, quarto and octavo, respectively.

Less Common Today

Foolscap folio was the most widely used paper size throughout Europe and the British Commonwealth of Nations until the introduction of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 216 standard in 1975. This standard defined many sizes of paper, of which A4 is most commonly used today. A4 paper, which measures 8.3 inches (21.0 cm) by 11.7 inches (29.7 cm), is considered standard for most of the world. Some notable exceptions are the United States, Canada and Mexico, which typically use letter size paper that is 8.5 inches (21.6 cm) by 11 inches (27.9 cm).


The term "foolscap" is most often heard in England, Australia and Canada. In some Spanish-speaking countries, foolscap folio is known as oficio. This paper size can sometimes be found at specialty stationers and less commonly at stores that carry office or school supplies. In the U.S., a paper size that is similar is called legal paper, which is standardized as 8.5 inches (21.6 cm) by 14 inches (35.6 cm).

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker , Writer
"In addition to her role as a Language & Humanities editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "

Discussion Comments

By anon262679 — On Apr 20, 2012

11 by 17 is known as tabloid size.

By anon75723 — On Apr 07, 2010

Is it appropriate to refer to 11"x17" as foolscap today?

By roman — On Aug 06, 2009

2. para., end: "octavo", not "octavio". Being caught up in the (publisher's) translator's struggle to 'recreate' my "foolscap" into Hungarian, of all things, I love your concluding sentence! roman

Niki Acker

Niki Acker


"In addition to her role as a Language & Humanities editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide...
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