The “Deadline”

16 Aug

I spent the majority of my life living by deadlines; you miss a deadline you fail. As a journalist myself if you missed your deadline the story didn’t make it into the paper and was therefore “dead”. It’s called a deadline for a reason; if you go over the deadline you’re dead. Well maybe not today is that a literal truth, but the origin of the word was very literal.

civil-war-soldiersIn early 1864 the Confederacy built a Union prisoner of war camp in Georgia; “Andersonville”. It was built to hold 10,000 prisoners but its population soon swelled and peaked at nearly 33,000 during the 14 months the prison was in operation.

One of the most well know characteristics of this POW camp, other than the thousands who died, was a small trench dug into the ground inside the stockade 17′ from the log fence. If any prisoner wandered across this very shallow furrow/line the guards in the towers had standing orders to shoot to kill. Even if a prisoner accidentally stumbled across this barrier the guards shot him dead. This shallow line in the ground became known by the prisoners as the “deadline.”

After the war Newspaper reporters interviewed survivors of the camp and became familiar with stories of the “deadline” and the shoot to kill orders issued to anyone who crossed it. The word “deadline” was adopted by the newspaper profession, then, because of the requirement that reporters get stories they had written to their editors by a certain time, or else they would not appear in the next issue of the newspaper. In other words, the story was “dead.”

By the 20th century the word “deadline” was firmly entrenched in the field of journalism and publishing. Then the term made a leap into the world of education. Schools and teachers started using the term in place of the more neutral term “due date,” or to replace the words “expected” or “required” when referring to assignments, homework, projects, tests and exams. It was a natural flow from journalism to education because, just like reporters, students had to hand in assignments on time or suffer a consequence.

The history of the word is gruesome and extreme. It’s definitely lucky we don’t operate that way today…although things would certainly get done on time…haha that mean. Seriously though people assuming a “deadline” is a suggestion may drive me into a gray/bald grave yet.


2 Responses to “The “Deadline””

  1. publishistory August 16, 2013 at 10:30 PM #

    Interesting stuff, I hope this is a true story (if not never mind, I’ll still use it haha!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: