The 80-columns of course is legacy from punch card (Hollerith card) days, which was inherited by most dumb terminals (24 or 25 lines of 80 chars -- which xterm by default duplicates). There was also a brief period where a computer manufacturer (I think IBM, but could be wrong) introduced a 96-column punch card (different shape overall, not just 20% wider).
The relationship could also derive from typing: using skinny (1/4") margins to get 8" lines on an 8.5x11 page (US letter size), a courier typewriter at 10 chars/inch would fit 80 chars to the line (and 6 lines/inch). A "elite" typewriter, at 12 cpi would fit 96 chars on that same line (and 8 lines/inch).
If you really wanted to go to wide lines, there's the 132 columns (characters) that was standard for line printer output back in the day.
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