Let me share an interesting story with you that not a lot of people know about. It’s a tale as old as time itself about how a term from the past is being used for something new. The term “CC” stands for carbon copy, and its corresponding evil twin is “BCC” which stands for blind carbon copy. You will undoubtedly see these abbreviations often in your day-to-day life: should I include a second person in this email without them knowing? Should I include them in the email without letting the main recipient of the email know? All questions that CC and BCC answer. And many are masters in the art of BCC, either by self-proclamation or by others’ recognition. But not all qualify.
Unlocking the secrets of how to write effective emails can dramatically improve communication with colleagues, clients, and even friends and family, ultimately leading to greater success in your personal and professional life.
The concept of BCC often confuses young professionals, though it’s something that everyone needs to understand. In short:
BCC stands for “Blind Carbon Copy.” It means that you’ve sent an email to the main recipient (that’s the “To:” field), but want to include another recipient without the main recipient’s knowledge.
When is it appropriate to BCC someone on an email, and how should you respond if you’re BCC’d on one? By understanding the meaning of “CC,” you can better discern when to use a CC function.
Carbon Paper: The Lost Art
Did you know that “CC” is an abbreviation for “carbon copy?” Carbon copies are something that existed in history. The history of carbonless paper is rooted in the early 1800s. In 1806, Ralph Wedgwood invented the machine called a “stylographic writer” to help blind people write; he soon saw its potential for commercial use and developed it further.
Did you know that carbon paper has a pretty romantic history? That’s right – it was invented by a man named Pellegrino Turri in Italy who wanted to help his partner (who was blind and also a Countess!) write letters to him.
That’s where the “blind” period in carbon paper history ends. Businesses started to use carbon copying for receipts and other necessary documents that needed to be duplicated. Though it may seem outdated, carbon paper was quite revolutionary in its time and has shaped many of the technologies we use today. Eventually, carbon paper was replaced by the revolutionary technology of photocopying. This concept translated into early e-mail systems where recipients could be included hierarchically.
The purpose of informing you about the history of carbon copies is to underline one thing: Blind carbon copying isn’t effective. It’s a term created specifically for e-mailing and nothing else. In simpler terms, it’s a lazy way out for an entirely different type of objective. This task is typically worded as “saving a step between sending an email and forwarding it to someone who would be interested in the contents.”
To sum up, BCC is helpful for forwarding e-mails. It should not be used to trick someone into a conversation. The bottom line: purely send information via BCC so that the recipient can respond privately.
Famous BCC Botches
We’ve all experienced the heart-stopping moment when we accidentally hit “Reply All” on an email. Here are some of our favorite examples:
1. German Parliament: Babette, an employee of the German Parliament, sent a request for an employee directory to every member of the Legislature and every administrative person in the Parliament. 4,000 people received the email– and many replied to her all messages. NPR states that “from the group, a social network developed– but as with most social networks, they didn’t have much conversation.”
2. Bill Cochran, an advertising executive who is now 45 years old, sent an email about his in-house competition on a big account directly to that competition. The flub caused a WSJ-produced graph, as shown on the right:
3. Here are some BCC blunders that will make you laugh. Our favorite: “We could easily convince the customer to buy it– even though he doesn’t need it.”
To Reply All, to CC, or BCC?
Many people use Reply All, CC, and BCC. Why do we do this? These functions make conversations more efficient by facilitating introductions, reducing forwarding traffic, and looping team members into interactions. Though “Reply All” and Carbon Copy may not be as productive as we once thought, discretion is key in using them.
Though we may not all agree on everything, there is one thing most of us can settle on: BCC should only be used for private interactions. And above all else, remember: never hit Reply All if you’re BCC’s on an email.
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