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Too French for translation…

#16 Piston

The French noun piston, often found in the expression (se faire) pistonner, is an informal way of describing the preferential treatment received by an individual. Frequently used in the context of workplace politics, the verb pistonner has close ties with the verb appuyer, meaning ‘to push’ and this colloquial term dates back to 1857. Just like within a gas cylinder, the piston is the moving component that induces force into a system. This is the same image behind the piston that suddenly propels someone into a lofty position of authority and power.

While the English language has phrases such as ‘to pull some strings’ that can convey this sense of unfounded favouritism, it is unable to offer a noun of equal versatility as the French piston. Applicable to people, situations and inanimate objects, a piston can be, in a strongly pejorative sense, anything that unexpectedly sees an individual earn an achievement through arguably unfair channels.

In recent years, it has been claimed that the French are particularly fond of this preferential treatment.  In 2010, according to a poll conducted by Sky Prods, 88% of French people surveyed thought that a piston was more important than talent in job recruitment. In the same year, French comedian Kev Adams took to the television show On n’demande qu’à en rire and offered a satirical and cutting view of how France has garnered the apparent reputation of le pays du piston.