A NY Times essay by John F. Burns (in today’s “Week in Review” section) includes the following sentence/paragraph:
Before the court, at that instant, 25 years almost to the week after he seized power in Baghdad, stood Saddam Hussein al-Majid al-Tikriti, the man who awarded himself titles of honor and glory to fill a foolscap page; the man who launched, or in some measure provoked, three disastrous wars; the man whose legacy runs to countless mass graves, and to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, his very name synonymous, across much of the world, with a totalitarianism that turned the Iraqi state into a machinery of torture and death.
Now, that’s quite a parade of indignant rhetoric, but what caught my attention was foolscap and the phrase that contains it: “…who awarded himself titles of honor and glory to fill a foolscap page.” To me, this means unequivocally that he awarded himself those titles in order to fill up a literal foolscap page, a “long folio writing- or printing-paper” in the words of the OED, which seems improbable, on grounds of both motivation and culture (do they really use foolscap in Iraq?). I suppose you can make the assumption that he meant to write (or did write, and was betrayed by editorial or typographical gremlins) “enough titles… to fill a foolscap page,” but still, why foolscap? I can only conclude that Saddam’s record of war, butchery, and torture wasn’t enough for Burns, who felt he had to get a little dig in by implying the man was a fool to boot. I would remind him that a telling restraint is generally more powerful than scattershot (and purely etymological) insults.
In case you’re wondering, yes, foolscap (the paper) is derived from the fool’s headgear; the OED’s definition 2 is “The device of a ‘fool’s cap’ used as a watermark for paper,” and definition 3 (the “long folio” one quoted above) goes on to say “A document of 1714, shown to us by Mr. R. B. Prosser, is written on paper bearing the fool’s cap watermark.”