This week I missed a very important deadline. The manuscript for a book I’ve been writing for over a year was due to the publisher on May 27th, but somehow I’d gotten in my head that May 31st was the deadline.

Well, to be fair – I didn’t actually miss the deadline: I misremembered it. May 27th is clearly stated in the contract, but that date morphed into May 31st in my mind.

Think about it. May 31st makes perfect sense as a due date. It’s the last day of the month. It’s a Friday. My semester grades must be submitted that day. It’s the last day my wonderful graduate assistant, Matthew McElfresh, will be working with me. (He has completed his graduate studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and is moving on, after serving as the editorial assistant and project manager on the book.) And it’s the day Ryan Damerow, TIRF’s Chief Operating Officer, will be sending out this month’s issue of TIRF Today.

According to, deadline is defined as “the time by which something must be finished or submitted; the latest time for finishing something: a five o’clock deadline; a line or a limit that must not be passed.”

Apparently, the term formerly referred to “a boundary around a military prison beyond which a prisoner could not venture without risk of being shot by the guards.”

The Online Etymology Dictionary provides this history: A “time limit,” 1920, American English newspaper jargon, from dead (adj.) + line (n.). Perhaps influenced by earlier use (1864) to mean the “do-not-cross” line in Civil War prisons, which figured in the trial of Henry Wirz, commander of the notorious Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia:

And he, the said Wirz, still wickedly pursuing his evil purpose, did establish and cause to be designated within the prison enclosure containing said prisoners a “dead line,” being a line around the inner face of the stockade or wall enclosing said prison and about twenty feet distant from and within said stockade; and so established said dead line, which was in many places an imaginary line, in many other places marked by insecure and shifting strips of [boards nailed] upon the tops of small and insecure stakes or posts, he, the said Wirz, instructed the prison guard stationed around the top of said stockade to fire upon and kill any of the prisoners aforesaid who might touch, fall upon, pass over or under [or] across the said “dead line” … [“Trial of Henry Wirz,” Report of the Secretary of War, Oct. 31, 1865]

According to Wikipedia, there are at least 15 films with this title:

None of these sound like very happy, uplifting movies!

We have several major deadlines in TIRF’s annual work routine: deadlines for submitting Doctoral Dissertation Grant proposals and Masters Research Grant proposals; deadlines for nominating chapters or articles for the Alatis Prize (October 1st this year); deadlines for grantees to submit their interim reports and final reports; deadlines for Trustees to provide their reports before Board meetings; and – of course – the one that hounds me on a monthly basis – the deadline to send Ryan the draft of my Chair’s Report for our newsletter.

Of course, there are deadlines for a reason: Complex projects that involve many people require that first steps have to be completed before subsequent steps may be taken. So, if I miss a deadline, my oversight of not having completed my portion of the work on time most likely will affect other people and may slow down another project. I hate being the bottleneck!

I am particularly chagrined about having missed my manuscript deadline because I’m constantly reminding my graduate students about the importance of time management. Meeting deadlines is a professional responsibility.

Deadlines can also be important in our personal lives. I admit that this year for the first time in over 30 years, I missed the April 15th deadline to submit my U.S. Federal and California State income tax forms.  I had to apply for an extension. The extension allows me to pay my taxes by June 30th, but my accountant gave me a June 5th deadline for getting all the needed information to him, so that he can prepare the legal paperwork. I guess you know how I’ll be spending this coming weekend.

The good news is that I WILL submit the book manuscript on May 31st. I imagine this is a busy time of year for many of our readers, as well. Whatever deadlines you may be facing, I hope you meet them and feel satisfied with your work and experience a sense of accomplishment for having finished it.

Another bit of good news is that there is no deadline for making a donation to TIRF. TIRF welcomes donations year-round, and, in fact, we’ll soon be mounting our mid-year appeal, which will be highlighted in next month’s newsletter. For any TIRF supporter reading this Chair’s Report and wishing to get ahead of the curve, please click here to donate to TIRF.

Best wishes,




PS: Fortunately, my publisher was very kind. Apparently, it is not unusual for book manuscripts to be submitted late. I’m just glad she didn’t decide to shoot me for overstepping my deadline!