Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day


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Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.


riot act

May 27th, 2015

Episode 208 of 923 episodes

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 27, 2015 is: riot act \RYE-ut-AKT\ noun : a vigorous reprimand or warning used in the phrase read the riot act Examples: Celia's parents read her the riot act after she stayed out for almost an hour past her curfew. "[Angela Merkel] read Greece and other affected zone members the riot act: their borrowing and spending was out of control, and they'd have to rein it in, just as Germany had done." Paul Hockenos, The Nation, March 12, 2015 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 Although the law long ago fell into disuse and was finally repealed in 1973, the term that it generated lives on today.

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