From the Letters to the Editor column of the September 2009 issue of Perspectives on History

On Carbon Copies: An Error Replicated?

Peter J. Yearwood, September 2009

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To the Editor:

AHA’s president (Perspectives on History, May 2009), and Wikipedia, are surely wrong about the meaning of “cc”. Plurals of abbreviations used to be formed by duplication. Some of these still survive, egg: pp, ff, nn, MSS. The abbreviation of “copy” is “c”, and that of “copies” is therefore “cc”. Unfortunately secretaries have for a very long time been using “cc” indiscriminately, and no amount of instruction can get them to revert to correct usage. Folk etymology then kicked in to provide “carbon copy” as the expanded form of “cc”. This is surely something which historians should get right.

—Peter J. Yearwood
University of Papua New Guinea

Editor’s Note: That is an interesting interpretation. However, it is worth noting that the Oxford English Dictionary, perhaps the dictionary of resort for historians, cites only “carbon copy,” as the expansion for c.c., dating the first use of the abbreviation to 1936, in a handbook for secretaries.