Mental Floss
BIG QUESTIONS

What Do ‘Cc’ and ‘Bcc’ Actually Stand For?

Ellen Gutoskey
You've got a carbon copy.
You've got a carbon copy. / Jasmin Merdan/Moment/Getty Images
facebooktwitterreddit

Anyone who spends a fair amount of time sending and/or receiving emails is no doubt familiar with the initialisms cc and bcc. If you’re not, here’s a brief overview of how they’re used.

Say you’re emailing Betty to tell her that you and your partner will attend her upcoming picnic, and you also want your partner to know that you’ve RSVP’ed. So you enter Betty’s email address in the ‘To’ box and your partner’s email address in the ‘Cc’ box. That way, your partner will receive the message, too, without feeling obligated to respond. In other words, the cc often functions as an FYI of sorts.

But let’s pretend Betty has a weird obsession with sending chain emails, and you know your partner’s email address will end up on her list if you cc them here. So you enter their email address in the ‘Bcc’ box, instead. They’ll receive your message, but Betty won’t be able to see that you included them. 

What Do Cc and Bcc Stand For?

If you’ve heard your coworkers talk about “copying” each other on emails, you can probably guess what one of the c’s in cc stands for. The full phrase is carbon copy, and it predated the arrival of email by decades. 

At least as far back as the late 19th century, people would insert special carbon paper between sheets of regular paper in their typewriters, allowing them to duplicate a document without typing it multiple times. Eventually, it became common practice to list the recipients of copies next to c.c. so everyone would know who else had read it. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known reference to the abbreviation is from a 1936 secretarial handbook—so it was probably in play sometime before then.

Bcc stands for blind carbon copy (an offshoot of the slightly older phrase blind copy). Just like with today’s email versions, the original letter of a blind carbon copy wouldn’t feature a section that named other recipients, so the primary recipient wouldn’t know any copies had been sent.

These days, courtesy copy is sometimes cited as the expression behind cc, rather than carbon copy. While it may not be historically accurate, it is a pretty apt alternative for a custom that no longer involves actual carbon paper.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

facebooktwitterreddit