Looks good on paper

Looks good on paper is an interesting idiom.  An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common saying looks good on paper, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Looks good on paper is an idiom that describes something that is true, adequate, or good in theory, but in practice, is not true, adequate, or good. For instance, teacher’s lesson plan may look good on paper, but when she teaches a class of students, the plan might not be adequate. Another example: A person who is searching for a mate may meet someone who has all the attributes of the type of mate she is searching for, but for some reason, that someone does not appeal to her. She may say that her date looks good on paper, but is not a good match. The image is that of a written list—“on paper.” Looks good on paper is a fairly common idiom that came into use at the beginning of the twentieth century and has risen in popularity, though its origin is unclear. Related phrases are look good on paper, looked good on paper, looking good on paper.


Although his 20 points-per-game, 51-percent from the field, and 40-percent from three looks good on paper, Harris didn’t receive enough love in the polls. (Sports Illustrated)

While that looks good on paper, attorney Donna Brown, who testified before the commission on behalf of the state’s Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that’s not how it works in real life. (Concord Monitor)

Coronavirus precautions for Super Bowl attendees looked good on paper but ‘the reality is sobering,’ says infectious disease expert (Business Insider)

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