When it comes to homework assignments or work projects, there’s one thing that many people dread: deadlines. Why do we have them? And why are they called deadlines? That sounds so ominous, doesn’t it?

Deadlines are time limits that are set so that a particular task or goal is completed or achieved no later than a certain point in time. They have many purposes and, even if we don’t like them sometimes, they are important.

Try to imagine what school would be like if there were no deadlines associated with homework. Homework is often given to help you master things you’ve learned about in class. If you didn’t do your homework on a timely basis, it would be nearly impossible for your teacher to move your entire class forward to build upon what you’ve already learned.

The same holds true at work. If you have a job to do, it’s usually because someone is depending upon you to complete a task. If your job is to change the oil in a car, the people who own the cars need that job done in a reasonable time frame, so that their car will run smoothly and they can get where they need to be.

The term “deadline” has uncertain origins. The earliest uses of the word appear to have referred simply to lines that did not move. This usage may have developed into “deadline” being used around the time of the Civil War as a term related to prisons, meaning a line that could not be crossed by prisoners.

Eventually, the term began to be used by journalists in the sense we know today. This was most likely the result of the design of early printing presses that featured a guideline on the printing plate. Any text inside the line would be printed. Any text outside the line — the “deadline” — would not be printed and would “die.”

So, today, if you miss your deadline for homework, it’s not accepted or graded. Homework submitted on time will be accepted and graded. Your ultimate grade may depend upon whether you do your homework and keep it “alive” or miss the deadline and let it “die”!

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