Read the riot act

To read someone the riot act means to sternly tell them to behave well, to demand good behavior and warn them of dire consequences if they do not stop what they are doing. The term read the riot act has its origins in an actual law called the Riot Act which was enacted in Britain in 1714.  According to the law, if a crowd of twelve or more people showed signs of becoming unruly, the local authority would ask them to disperse. If they refused, the authority would read the Riot Act out loud, giving the group one hour to disperse. In sixty minutes, the authority would have the right to arrest anyone still around. Punishment was death. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Riot Act was invoked often, and authorities were not obligated to wait sixty minutes after reading the Riot Act if circumstances began to spiral out of control. The first figurative use of read the riot act occurs in 1819. Related terms are reads the riot act, read the riot act and reading the riot act.



The governor read the riot act at the Multipurpose Hall of the Maiduguri Government House during the swearing- in – ceremony of the 21 Commissioners, 27 local government caretaker Chairmen and one permanent secretary. (The Nigerian Daily Post)

Television cameras allowed into the changing rooms showed Saint-André reading the riot act during the interval but Nakaitaci believes the harsh words were deserved. (The Irish Times)

“I did read the riot act on Saturday, but there is more to come,” admitted Taylor. (The Coleraine Times)

President Obama is incensed about this and is expected to read the riot act to Xi. (Forbes)

According to sources present, Mr Abbott assured the backbench that at Monday night’s cabinet meeting, he had “read the riot act” to his ministers, warning that “if anyone is caught, the consequences will be severe”. (The Financial Review)


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  1. Jim Cofer says:

    Many former British colonies have (or had) Riot Acts, too. Some Australian states have one, as does Belize (last used in 2005), Canada (last used in 2011) and New Zealand (the requirement to read the act aloud was removed in NZ law in 1987). The USA’s Militia Act of 1792 was also based on the Riot Act, and is still law as title 10 of the US code.

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