This topic has a broad history, and much of it out of context and in other cultures as well...but with similar applications. Even "wiki" does a decent job with outlining and/or defining it.

Tim B. gave a good basic run at its Etymology and it does have many meanings from a term in golf to a space in architecture.

In the "design-build" world it goes back millenia and is part of the entire world of "scribing modalities." Its origin in most likely first employed in sculpture and then in boat building. Its use in sculpture, such as stone gives it and other "3D" methods of transferring and transcribing datum from a "flat plane" into a three dimensional plan. There are countless ways of doing this, and again it is found in many cultures (Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Asian.)

It can be performed off a "lofting floor" but is not limited to this method at all. There are methods that can use walls and even the ceiling. These "flat planes" become the "grid plane" and then in the visual space surrounding it we form a 3D context of what is to be constructed...a boat, a plan, a timber frame or perhaps the orgin purpose a figure or object to be sculpted.

Armature methods are part of this data transfer as well but that takes this more into the world of sculpture (but applicable) than its context to timber framing...