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 loan-word of unknown origin, often said to be Egyptian (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-wasp " type of wasp that builds a nest out of paper-like material" is by 1805. 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.
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, probably from the notion of hiding cracks in plaster with wallpaper. Paper (n.) also had a sense of "free passes to theaters or other public entertainments" (1785), so paper (v.) once meant "fill (a theater, etc.) with non-paying spectators."
1590s, "made of paper, consisting of paper," from paper (n.). Figurative of something flimsy or unsubstantial from 1716, probably on the notion of "appearing merely in written or printed statements, not tangible or existing in reality." Paper tiger (1952) translates Chinese tsuh lao fu, popularized by Mao Zedong. Paper doll is attested by 1817; paper plate "disposable plate made of paper or cardboard" is from 1723. Paper money is from 1690s.