Origins #15: (Reading someone) the Riot Act

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Reading the Riot Act

Reading the Riot Act

On the Merriam-Webster website, one that I visit frequently, they have an area on the site with TOP 10 LISTS. Today’s origin comes from the Top 10 Words Born in Conflict. While all ten are interesting, I think one is more interesting than the others, so I’ve chosen to highlight the Riot Act.

If someone “reads the riot act to you”, they’ve got something to say, and it isn’t pleasant.

The origin, courtesy of the site:

In the early 18th century, the Riot Act was something actually read aloud – by the agents of King George I, who used it to break up gatherings of more than twelve people by ordering them to disperse within an hour. (One practical issue: it can be challenging to read something audibly during a riot.)

The term’s meaning has changed over the centuries, but it still suggests a serious offense.

Another example of an origin that is pretty clear and based in history, which makes me enjoy it even more. You can find a complete list of the Top 10 Lists here.

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