mid-14c., "material consisting of a compacted web or felting of vegetable fibers, commonly as a thin, flexible sheet for writing, printing, etc.," from Anglo-French paper, Old French papier "paper, document," and directly from Latin papyrus "paper, paper made of papyrus stalks," from Greek papyros "any plant of the paper plant genus," a word said to be of Egyptian origin (see papyrus).
Sense of "essay, dissertation on a topic" is from 1660s. Meaning "bills of exchange, paper money" is attested by 1722. As "paper for covering the walls of interiors," 1764. As "printed sheet of news" (a shortened form of newspaper), attested by 1640s. Papers, "collection of documents which establish one's identity, standing, credentials, etc.," it is attested from 1680s.
Paper-clip is by 1875; paper-cutter as a type of machine is by 1969. Paper-hanger is by 1796. Paper chase is by 1856 in British English for the game of hare-and-hounds, from the bits of paper scattered as "scent" by the "hares;" the slang meaning "effort to earn a diploma or college degree" is by 1932.