read the riot act

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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