What Does Carbon Copy Mean?

Carbon Copy Meaning

Definition: A duplicate of something written.

People use this expression both for something handwritten on paper and for emails that are sent to someone other than the main recipient. When used to refer to emails, the abbreviation cc is common.

Sometimes people use this for anything that is replicated as an exact copy.

Origin of Carbon Copy

This expression originated around the late 1800s. At first, carbon copies were made with carbon paper. Carbon paper was paper that had a special treatment. When a person wrote on carbon paper, it would transfer ink from the impressions onto another paper below it.

Over time, new technology was invented. Now, people usually use carbon copy to refer to emails.

Examples of Carbon Copy

cc carbon copy In this example, a man needs to send some important information to his mother. However, he promises to send the same information to his friend who is also interested in it.

Neha: Hey, what are you working on?

Tyrese: I’m sending my mother the cake recipe she wanted.

Neha: Is that the cake you made for Christmas last year?

Tyrese: Yeah. She said the whole family really loved it, so she wants to make it for my dad’s birthday. I’m emailing her right now.

Neha: Can you cc me? I’d love to have the recipe as well.

Tyrese: Sure! No problem!

what is a carbon copy In this example, two office workers are discussing who should be copied on an email.

Barry: Should I carbon copy everyone in the department on this email to you?

Rachel: No, I think it’s okay just to send it to me and cc your boss.

More Examples

This excerpt uses the expression to describe one program that is similar but is not an exact duplicate of the original.

  • While some of the Santa Ana club’s offerings will likely be exported to the other branches, such as the Early Literacy Intervention and College Bound programs, the goal isn’t to make the Harbor Area clubs a carbon copy of what’s in Santa Ana, Santana said. –LA Times

This excerpt is about pop music in a movie.

  • A la the Fonz, he pops it into service with a bop from his fist until it blasts out a rocked-up rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Ooby Dooby,” which is pretty much a carbon copy of the 1970 Creedence Clearwater Revival version. –LA Times

Grammar and Usage

Carbon copy can be a noun, which describes the actual paper or email that is a copy.

It can also act as a verb. When a person uses carbon copy as a verb for emails, they usually use the abbreviation, and add an indirect object after it.

Example: Please cc all the department heads when you email the CEO.

Sometimes people shorten this to copy + direct object

            Example: Copy my secretary on all your emails to me so she can update my schedule.


Carbon copy refers to an exact replication of something handwritten or emailed.