Paper-thin is an idiom that may not be as old as you think. 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, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, 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 idiom paper-thin, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Paper-thin means extremely thin, something that is cut in a very thin slice. For instance, a sandwich may contain meat or cheese that is sliced paper-thin; a cheap hotel may have walls that are paper-thin. Paper-thin is also used figuratively to mean a premise or excuse that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The expression paper-thin didn’t really gain traction until the 1920s or so, which is interesting. Paper has been around much longer, but perhaps the public’s access to very thin paper was limited before that time. The word paper-thin is always hyphenated when used as an adjective before a noun; it is usually hyphenated when it is used after a verb, though it may be seen without the hyphen. Paper-thin is a compound word, which is a word that is derived from two separate words joined together.


The cloak is “paper-thin and inexpensive,” according to a release. (The Deseret News)

It’s a shame her stage had to be shared with two paper-thin male characters. (The Straits Times)

You may notice that I advise that you cut the potato slices paper thin and this is because it allows the potatoes to cook through faster. (The South African)

Leave a Comment