What Does Throw the Book at Someone Mean?

Throw the Book at Someone Meaning

Definition: To punish someone as much as the laws or rules allow.

Some laws or rules can be somewhat lenient, depending on the judge or person in charge. If one throws the book at someone, it means that person has decided to be as strict as possible.

Origin of Throw the Book at Someone Meaning

This expression originated in the first half of the 1900s. The book referenced in this idiom refers to a book of laws or rules. Therefore, the imagery of throwing a book at someone is one of a judge throwing a book of laws at a criminal as a punishment.

It is possible to use this expression for any type of punishment for which there are rules. However, it is most common when talking about a judge in a court of law choosing to punish a criminal.

Examples of Throw the Book at Someone Meaning

Throwing the book at them In this example, two sisters are discussing a friend who went to prison.

Amy: Did you hear about what happened to Alan?

Kimberly: No. What was it?

Amy: The police caught him drinking alcohol at a party. He was only 20 years old at the time, so they charged him with underage drinking. Nobody thought the judge would punish him much, so he pleaded guilty. He expected to have to do community service. However, the judge wanted to make an example out of him, so he threw the book at him. It’s not fair! Now he’ll be in jail for a long time.

Throwing the book at them In the second example, two friends are discussing the rules of their homeowners association.

Keira: This neighborhood requires all the homeowners to be a part of the homeowners association. You have to be careful because they have a lot of rules.

Rory: What kind of rules?

Keira: For example, you have to have your trash bins out no earlier than 10 p.m., and take it back in before 8 a.m., on each trash pickup day.

Rory: What will they do if you don’t comply?

Keira: They’ll throw the book at you! They’ll make you pay a fine, and if you don’t do that, they’ll take you to court. It’s intense.

More Examples

This example is about punishing a young person who is also a criminal.

  • Eileen Pasternak, the North Hollywood robbery victim, also wanted tough action. “What she did was horrific,” Pasternak said. “I wanted them to throw the book at her.” –LA Times

This excerpt is about the US government trying to stop confidential leaks.

  • “We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearance to sell out our country,” Sessions said at a news conference at the Department of Justice, promising to hunt down leakers and then throw the book at them. –New York Post


The phrase to throw the book at someone means to punish someone as much as possible as allowed by the law or set of rules.