riot act


: a vigorous reprimand or warning
used in the phrase read the riot act

Did you know?

Many people were displeased when George I became king of England in 1714, and his opponents were soon leading rebellions and protests against him. The British government, anxious to stop the protests, passed a law called the "Riot Act." It allowed public officials to break up gatherings of 12 or more people by reading aloud a proclamation, warning those who heard it that they must disperse within the hour or be guilty of a felony punishable by death. By 1819, "riot act" was also being used more generally for any stern warning or reprimand. Although the law long ago fell into disuse and was finally repealed in 1973, the term that it generated lives on today.

Examples of riot act in a Sentence

at a specially called meeting, he read the riot act to his staff for their poor handling of the crisis
Recent Examples on the Web Linda spots her tree amidst the blinding lights and snatches the DJ's mic to read the crowd the riot act., 27 Nov. 2023 Reading ‘em the riot act: In the Week 5 win over the Rams, DeMarcus Lawrence gathered all the defensive players together in the bench area after a bad series and delivered a fire-and-brimstone speech. Dallas News, 17 Oct. 2022 Reich is 4-4 against the Titans in his four seasons in Indianapolis, but the Colts have lost four of their last five against Mike Vrabel’s Titans, and after the first loss on the road last season, Irsay read his coaching staff the riot act. The Indianapolis Star, 2 Oct. 2022 During the questioning, Kayla ignores Torres' instructions to wait in the car, and Vance reads her the riot act. Sara Netzley,, 8 Mar. 2022 M-Rod and Sanoe Lake come to clean the room Kate Bosworth is a guest in (awkward) and read her the riot act for choosing a guy over surfing. Emma Specter, Vogue, 11 Mar. 2022 Around 2016, senior SEAL commander Jamie Sands read the East Coast teams the riot act. Catherine Herridge, CBS News, 30 Apr. 2021 Bennett short and marches back to the group to read them the riot act. Kristen Baldwin,, 21 Oct. 2020 Instead of reading him the riot act, Will is understandably enchanted. Washington Post, 11 Sep. 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'riot act.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


the Riot Act, English law of 1715 providing for the dispersal of riots upon command of legal authority

First Known Use

1784, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of riot act was in 1784


Dictionary Entries Near riot act

Cite this Entry

“Riot act.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition

riot act

: a strong scolding or warning
used in the phrase read the riot act
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