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Where Did Deadlines Come From?
"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." - Douglas Adams
This usage of deadline comes originally from journalism, representing the time limit for submitting copy to the printer to be typeset. It probably derives from an earlier usage in printing, representing a guideline marked on a plate for a printing press (inside which all content should appear).
The early origins of this usage are less certain. The earliest use of deadline in any sense refers simply to lines that do not move such as one used in angling; slightly later American usage includes a boundary around a prison which prisoners must not cross. Either of these could have given rise to the printing usage a few decades later.
Another theory is that the term originated due to rather brutal enforcement of project schedules by the Roman Catholic church during the middle ages. Apparently the church interpreted the term quite literally.