Reading the riot act

Here is an interesting one: reading somebody the riot act.

This idiom requires some explanation, but first its meaning: to complain loudly, to speak to somebody and tell them angrily in no uncertain terms that they will be punished if they continue with their behavior.

Literal reading of the riot act, pic: aviscogitations.wordpress.com

Not unexpectedly the idiom is quite old, it dates back to the 18th century Britain when – to curb popular unrest and upraisings the government decreed that any gathering of more than 12 people has to disperse within an hour of being read an Act (the Riot Act) out aloud.  Failing to follow this ordered was punished very severely.

Today, the idiom is used with recalcitrant teenagers, unacceptable behavior by the neighbors and similar nuisances rather than with actual street riots.

Here is an example:

“The college kids across the street had yet another party.  I really had enough of their loud music untile late so I went over and read them the riot act.”

 

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