1550s, "goal, end, final point," from Latin terminus (plural termini) "an end, a limit, boundary line," from PIE *ter-men- "peg, post," from root *ter-, base of words meaning "peg, post; boundary, marker, goal" (source also of Sanskrit tarati "passes over, crosses over," tarantah "sea;" Hittite tarma- "peg, nail," tarmaizzi "he limits;" Greek terma "boundary, end-point, limit," termon "border;" Gothic þairh, Old English þurh "through;" Old English þyrel "hole;" Old Norse þrömr "edge, chip, splinter"). "The Hittite noun and the usage in Latin suggest that the PIE word denoted a concrete object which came to refer to a boundary-stone." [de Vaan]
In ancient Rome, Terminus was the name of the deity who presided over boundaries and landmarks, focus of the important Roman festival of Terminalia (held Feb. 23, the end of the old Roman year). The meaning "either end of a transportation line" is first recorded 1836.
updated on March 15, 2018