What Does CC Mean in Email?

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 
The CC function in your email allows you to make a complete copy of any email and send it to any recipient, or recipients, you choose. Sanford/Agliolo/Getty Images

How often do you use the CC function when you send an email? Filling in that line, which usually appears directly below the TO field, is a handy and efficient way to send information to more than one recipient at the same time. But do you know what CC actually means?

Unless you're familiar with the days of old in which the primary means of communication was to create a paper trail — or record of communication — using literal paper, you may not know how the CC abbreviation originated.


Carbon Copy Used to Involve Paper

Draw near and I'll tell you a story about life before the internet, long before electronic mail was as near as the tips of our fingers. How, you may wonder, did we communicate?

Sure, we'd collectively made progress since the days of quill dipped in ink, but erm, not that much. Even after the first personal computers began appearing in homes and offices during the 1980s, most people and companies still relied on paper to record, share or store information. And what if more than one copy of that piece of paper was required?


Enter: carbon paper. To duplicate the information on a single sheet of paper, one would place a piece of carbon paper between that paper and one below it. This carbon paper "sandwich" allowed people to use a typewriter to input something once and have it appear on both the original paper and the paper under the carbon layer. The pigment from the carbon paper would be transferred to the paper under it and create a "carbon copy." Therefore, CC is short for "carbon copy."

The pigment that coats a piece of carbon paper is actually comprised of carbon black impregnated with wax to help it adhere to the paper and to prevent it from smearing before use. Carbon black is a close cousin to graphite (found commonly in pencil lead), but has a much finer texture.

To create carbon black, air and a hydrocarbon such as petroleum oil are pumped into a furnace where the heat causes the oil to combust; it's then fueled to ever higher temperatures by air. Once the temperature reaches 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,648 degrees Celsius), the unburned carbon decomposes to carbon black, which is then cooled and harvested. For comparison, consider the fact that — at its hottest — molten lava only reaches 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit (1,600 degrees Celsius).


Carbon Copy Today

Well, paper eventually went the way of the dinosaur and carbon copy was eventually abbreviated to CC, and, over time, the meaning of CC has come to reflect its modern usage. It now also refers to a Courtesy Copy, a term that more closely matches its function when used in email. Recipients usually are CC'd when they need to see an email but don't necessarily need to respond.

The one potential drawback to including recipients in the CC field is that everyone to whom the email is sent can see the other recipients and their email addresses. And that's where BCC comes into play. Located directly under the CC field, BCC allows you to send an email to yourself or to anyone else while keeping their email addresses, and the fact that they've been copied, private.