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SOMETIMES, THE MESSENGER DOES GET SHOT—and Deserves It

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD the phrase “Don't shoot the messenger?” At one time, that was a literal admonition.

For centuries across medieval England, the position of town crier was critical. Because most townspeople could not read, the town crier was the singular source of news. Ringing a large hand bell and bellowing “Oyez,” the town crier would announce the latest news and proclamations. He typically had other roles too—including the authority to arrest people and take them to the stocks for punishment.

Town criers often had to proclaim—loudly—bad news such as tax increases, so they were protected by law; harming the town crier was considered an act of treason.

These days, there is no such monopoly. ...

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