I get how and when it's used but what is its origin?

Why the word "late"?

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  • What does the etymology listing in your dictionary tell you? – Robusto Jan 10 '15 at 19:08
  • etymonline.com/… – Jim Jan 10 '15 at 19:11
  • It connects through the idea recently as in lately. We tend to use that expression for a short time after people die. So he died recently = late. – Good A.M. Jan 10 '15 at 20:04
  • We also use it more generally to mean recently: "I'd like to introduce Bill Williams, late of XYZ Corp., who will be heading up our research department." – Robusto Jan 10 '15 at 20:14

"the late Mr X" - This use of "late" is elliptical for lately deceased (recently deceased).

an ellipsis is the act of leaving out one or more words that are not necessary for a phrase to be understood. Merriam-Webster

etymology of "late" - The sense of "deceased" (as in the late Mrs. Smith) is from late 15c., from an adverbial sense of "recently." Of women's menstrual periods, attested colloquially from 1962. Related: Lateness. As an adverb, from Old English late. ED

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