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Word of the Week: 'deadline'


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘deadline’.

The word ‘deadline’ is one all too familiar to the brand journalists here at Speak Media. It also happens to be the word on every footy fan’s lips this week. Why? Because tomorrow marks the Premier League’s infamous transfer deadline day, a nail-biting 24-hour countdown until English clubs are no longer allowed to purchase players.

It’s a biannual event that’s always packed with high-end drama, mouthwatering purchases and I’m A Celebrity winner Harry Redknapp giving tight-lipped interviews from his car. What’s not to love.

What is the meaning of ‘deadline’?

A quick peek at Google Trends reveals ‘deadlines’ are on the brain. From ‘Transfer Deadline day 2019’ to ‘New Brexit deadline’ and ‘Tax Deadline 2019’ – all of which have increased in search volume by 5000% or more – it’s not just the writers at this Brick Lane content agency who know the pressure of a looming ‘deadline’.

The noun ‘deadline’ in the simplest sense refers to: “A time or day by which something must be done.”

One entry in the Urban Dictionary states that a deadline “designates the approximate point in time at which work begins in earnest; employee motivation is frequently observed to be “dead” before the deadline draws near.” Such a description is alien to members of the newsroom here at Speak, of course.

It has to be said, the given description hardly gets the pulse racing. However its origins are a little more interesting…

Etymology of ‘deadline’

First recorded in 1864, the word ‘deadline’ has its origins in the American Civil War. During time of conflict, a ‘do not cross’ line was circled around prisons. Guards were told to shoot and kill any prisoner who might touch, fall upon, pass over, under or across the said ‘dead line’. 

This type of ‘dead line’ is attributed to an infamously cruel Confederate Army officer Heinrich Hartmann Wirz. Accounts report of how “Wirz, still wickedly pursuing his evil purpose, did establish and cause to be designated within the prison enclosure… a ‘dead line’”.

By the 1920s the word was adopted into journalism jargon and had evolved to mean: “time limit” – something well known to journalists and content marketers alike. 

Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), famously said that he liked ‘deadlines’ because of the “whooshing noise they make as they go by”.

So, if you hear that whooshing noise around 5pm tomorrow, it could be a bird, it could be a plane, or it could be the news that Romelu Lukaku’s just signed for Juventus F.C.

Read More:

Word of the Week: ‘spectrum’

Word of the Week: ‘heatwave’


Roisin McCormack