The dark history behind four common idioms and expressions

The origin of a phrase can color your audience’s perception of its use. Beware the potential pitfalls behind these common idiomatic expressions.

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History is about more than just dates and places—it’s storytelling at its finest.

While visiting Boston and the city’s historic sites this summer, I was captivated by the stories and storytellers I met there. Tied closely to the history of Plymouth Rock, the Freedom Trail, and the Boston Tea Party is the language used to tell those stories. As it turns out, the language has a history of its own.

Many of our everyday idioms and expressions have dark origins that date back to colonial times. Consider the history of these terms the next time you use them.

1. “Riot act”

Have you ever been in so much trouble that someone “read you the riot act”?

In 18th-century England, the Riot Act was a law used to control unruly crowds. If a magistrate determined that a group of 12 or more people formed a “riotous and tumultuous assembly,” the magistrate would read them the Riot Act. If the group did not disperse within an hour of the reading, they could be arrested.

(Source: The Phrase Finder)

2. “Raise your right hand”

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