read the riot act

Riot Act

noun
1.
an English statute of 1715 providing that if 12 or more persons assemble unlawfully and riotously, to the disturbance of the public peace, and refuse to disperse upon proclamation they shall be considered guilty of felony.
Idioms
2.
read someone the riot act,
a.
to reprimand; censure: The principal read them the riot act for their behavior at the assembly.
b.
to give (someone) a sharp warning.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
Riot Act
 
n
1.  criminal law (formerly in England) a statute of 1715 by which persons committing a riot had to disperse within an hour of the reading of the act by a magistrate
2.  read the riot act to someone to warn or reprimand someone severely

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

read the riot act definition


To chastise loudly, or to issue a severe warning: “After the students stormed the administration building, the president of the university came out and read them the riot act.” In England, unruly crowds that did not disperse after the Riot Act was read to them became subject to the force of the law.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

read the riot act

Warn or reprimand forcefully or severely, as in When he was caught throwing stones at the windows, the principal read him the riot act. This term alludes to an actual British law, the Riot Act of 1714, which required reading a proclamation so as to disperse a crowd; those who did not obey within an hour were guilty of a felony. [First half of 1800s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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