Pull strings

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To pull strings is an idiom that dates back to the mid-1800s. We will examine the definition of the phrase to pull strings, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To pull strings means to use one’s status or influence to gain an advantage or to obtain an advantage for someone else, usually in an unfair manner. Someone who pulls strings controls a situation. The phrase pull strings may be traced to the 1860s, and refers to puppetry in use at the time that employed the use of  pulling strings in order to make the puppets perform. Related phrases are pulls strings, pulled strings, pulling strings. 


Reinforcing this point, historian Bruce Cumings noted in our pages in “The North Korea that can say ‘no’ ” that China’s ability to pull strings in the so-called hermit kingdom is limited: “North Korea’s obstreperous behavior, so exasperating to foreign powers, might also be seen as a Game Theory 101 strategy by a small country surrounded by bigger powers who, when all is said and done, really don’t like their smaller neighbor.” (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

If you’re from a low-income household or are a first-generation college student, you’re less likely to have the kind of family connections who can pull strings to get you an interview at Google, Facebook, a big bank or a fashion magazine. (Forbes Magazine)

Some ministry officials are allegedly pulling strings in favour of their preferred companies to get contracts without fully following laid down procedures as provided for in the State Procurement Act. (The Zimbabwe Standard)

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