by Bethaney Wallace

Receiving a carbon copy email – the exact same message others receive, just one address box lower – is a common practice throughout email senders. Although its exact purpose cannot be pinned down, the CC was most likely invented as a way to inform parties, but show they are not needed to respond – a message that logic can also provide. “Great, I needed to know that, but I don’t need to respond,” one might say after reading an email about parking assignments or the forecast. But what the inventor of the CC failed to realize is that, despite subject matter, recipients don’t respond to every single email. We don’t need a specification that does the filtering for us.

The History

A term hailing from the olden days, when literal carbon copies were made from papers or contracts, users had to write with a firm hand to ensure the transfer of paper to carbon layers was made. During this interaction, the most important party would receive the top copy, which had each form properly and boldly filled in with ink. A middle copy almost always read the proper information, having made a successful transfer. While the bottom layer would often be missing dates and other info. The lower down on the priority list you became, the further back your carbon paper was placed. In other words, carbon copy = not important.

Modern Day

While some view this form of email as a way of saying “just so you know,” for many it’s an insult, and a way to clog their email folders. Everyone has a few contacts who are guilty – they CC tens of addresses on each piece of mail, regardless of whether or not it’s relevant. While companies oftentimes ask for this “courtesy” (“Please CC me, the boss, on all work-related emails so we can keep track of your hours.”), unless requested, the CC becomes a nuisance. Soon you’re getting 20 emails a day from Jane, who lost her password to Facebook and can someone help her? Not you specifically, but she wants you to know about this difficult time in her life.

One main downside to the CC is that email does it automatically. When clicking “reply all,” whomever was last to respond is put in the receiving field and everyone else gets slapped in the “not important” section. It’s email’s way of showing some they are on a higher scale than others.

Finally, on a personal level (for me), CC’d and CC’s and their BCC counterparts, are grammatically incorrect, despite what Word may tell you. Carbon copies do not have possessions, nor do they have missing letters that need to be signified through an apostrophe. If you write it that way, in my constant effort to defend the apostrophe, I will send you a harshly worded email.

On the Other Hand…

I have an intense love for the BCC. The “blind” makes all the difference. Either you’re sending to multiple recipients who aren’t acquainted with one another, or you’re pulling a fast one – both are instances I support. Because being shady is in the title, it’s ok. You know what you’re doing and so does the BCC receiver; there’s no class announcing here. Being passive aggressive (i.e. the CC) will only make people hate you. (FYI saying “I’m sorry you misread my response” or “I am busy” – we’re all busy; get over yourself – also fall into this category.)

To sum up, the CC has no purpose in life. What could easily be solved through a subject line has been dragged out and turned into an email clogging past time. Either type your recipients in the “to” field or fully commit and send blindly. No one likes a coward.


Photo courtesy of bgilliard