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Thread: Carbon Copies

  1. #1
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    Carbon Copies

    Dear Using English.com,

    Please could you clear up an issue with regard to carbon copies. When I write a letter to a client it is printed on headed paper. When I Cc it to someone else I print the exact letter with headed paper. However Ive been told that the Cc should be on plain paper, no headed crest on it. I dont understnad this as carbon copy means exact copy so surely it should be identical? Sometimes we are told to photocopy the orignial letter. This would mean our crest is greyscale and our signatures are photocopied?

    Could you explain this for me?

    Regards, Gillian

  2. #2
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    Re: Carbon Copies

    I don't know of any rule that says a carbon copy must or must not be on headed paper.

    The term "carbon copy" has come to mean an identical copy, but this can be confusing.

    Carbon copies were originally made using carbon paper. This carbon paper was sandwiched between two sheets of paper. When pressure was applied to the top sheet (either with a typewriter or a pen, or later with a dot-matrix printer), this caused carbon to be transferred at that point from the carbon paper to the sheet below. The result was a nice-looking original, and a rather smudgy copy, the "carbon copy".

    These days we don't use carbon paper; we can cheaply and efficiently print out several copies on a laser or inkjet printer, or we can photocopy. The abbreviation "cc" is now often taken to mean "courtesy copy".

    It may sound obvious, but a copy is not an original, and so doesn't have to look exactly like an original. If something is cc'd to you, that means that it's sent to you for your information only, and you're not expected to act on it. This might typically happen within a company: I might, for example, send you a letter confirming some arrangements for a working lunch, and send a cc to my boss. Obviously, professionalism dictates that you get a nice, clean, beautiful, multicoloured original, but my boss will be quite happy with a black-and-white photocopy.

  3. #3
    Ouisch's Avatar
    Ouisch is offline Moderator
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    Re: Carbon Copies

    As rewboss said, in the old days, carbon copies were made using actual carbon paper. The original letter was on letterhead (crested paper), and all the subsequent copies (typed at the same time) were on plain white onion skin paper. Onion skin is very thin and flimsy (it had to be, so that the typist could fit as many as 10 sheets plus carbons in the typewriter at a time), and by design could not be printed or embossed with a company crest or logo.

    Once carbon paper went the way of the dinosaurs, it became common practice to simply make photocopies of the original document when "carbon copies" were required. So today it is traditional to make the "carbons" on a Xerox machine, and the copies will bear the company crest, but not in full color or raised text. The recipient will know it is a copy and not the original.

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