Hello, my sweet, sweet followers. I hope you’ve been well!
After a rather baffling two-week hiatus, we bring back what you’ve all been craving for: our weekly instalment of Fun Etymologies!
Today’s word is “paper”.
Paper is a wonderful material. Invented in the 2nd century by the Chinese Han imperial court eunuch Cai Lun, this humble wood fibre byproduct has revolutionised the world.
Thanks to paper, writing became immensely easier, no longer being dependent on laboriously curated animal skin, or fragile clay, or intractable rock. And writing is just one of its uses: it can be used for cleaning, packaging, art and much much more, and it ushered in the paper money revolution.
The word “paper” comes to English from Old French “papier”, itself derived from Latin “papyrus”. That’s right: the same as the modern English word “papyrus”, the name of a plant native to Egypt whose fibres allowed the creation of a material very similar to paper, which made the Egyptians the undisputed masters of ancient writing.
The origins of the word “papyrus” itself are uncertain.
So next time you find yourself writing a letter, or an essay, or a novel, or whispering your most intimate secrets to a padlocked diary, remember to stop and appreciate paper, that most versatile and useful of materials.