Sunday, May 30, 2010


It is ironic that every day millions of people CC and BCC emails without a clue as to why the sending of a copy or a blind copy, that is, without the recipient being shown, is designated as CC and BCC.  It is even more ironic that the intials come from a an item that teenagers, madly SMSing, emailing and CCing, have never heard of, seen or handled.

The initials mean Carbon Copy and Blind Carbon Copy.

Back when I started work in an office, everything was prepared on typewriters, some electric, with a sheet of carbon paper behind and an extra page to make a copy. There was a photocopier in the office. It used glossy light sensitive paper that passed through a special bath of some sort of solution.

Carbon paper is a thin sheet with wax and carbon pigment. When sandwiched between two sheets of writing paper, anything written or typed on the first page is also recorded on the sheet behind the carbon paper. It was invented in 1806 by one Ralph Wedgwood

It was common to add at the bottom of business letters the names of persons to whom carbon copies were intended to be provided, usually in the form:
cc: John Smith

The earliest reference in literature to a carbon copy is in May 1818 in the Burlington Hawk-Eye "J. L. W." and reprinted from the Chicago Post:
"My own plan was to use the Wedgewood carbon copy-book, jetting down scrap notes whenever opportunity offered." 
The first recorded use of carbon copy, as against carbon copy-book, is from March 1888 and a piece in
The Newark Daily Advocate:
"Granville brought out a carbon copy of Mr. Booth's Times article."
Back in the days of carbon copies, there were no computers, no memory functions in typewriters. Everything was typed: Wills, commercial leases of up to 30 or more pages, contracts. It was for that reason that people who wanted to change their Wills in some small respect made a codicil, an amending paragraph or two at the end of a Will, rather than a complete new Will. These days when older clients advise that they want to add a codicil to their existing Will, I have to explain that these days it is easier to make a new Will than to add a new paragraph at the end.

There have been moves to change the terminology, in the case of emails, from carbon copy to courtesy copy.

No comments:

Post a Comment