on a/the string, Informal. subject to the whim of another; in one's power; dependent: After keeping me on a string for two months, they finally hired someone else.
    pull strings/wires,
    1. to use one's influence or authority, usually in secret, in order to bring about a desired result.
    2. to gain or attempt to gain one's objectives by means of influential friends, associates, etc.: He had his uncle pull strings to get him a promotion.

Origin of string

before 900; (noun) Middle English string, streng, Old English streng; cognate with Dutch streng, German Strang; akin to Latin stringere to bind; (v.) late Middle English stringen to string a bow, derivative of the noun
Related formsstring·less, adjectivestring·like, adjectivere·string, verb, re·strung, re·string·ing.


[wahyuh r]


a slender, stringlike piece or filament of relatively rigid or flexible metal, usually circular in section, manufactured in a great variety of diameters and metals depending on its application.
such pieces as a material.
a length of such material, consisting either of a single filament or of several filaments woven or twisted together and usually insulated with a dielectric material, used as a conductor of electricity.
a cross wire or a cross hair.
a barbed-wire fence.
a long wire or cable used in cable, telegraph, or telephone systems.
Nautical. a wire rope.
  1. a telegram.
  2. the telegraphic system: to send a message by wire.
wires, a system of wires by which puppets are moved.
a metallic string of a musical instrument.
Underworld Slang. the member of a pickpocket team who picks the victim's pocket.Compare stall2(def 5).
Horse Racing. a wire stretched across and above the track at the finish line, under which the horses pass.
Ornithology. one of the extremely long, slender, wirelike filaments or shafts of the plumage of various birds.
a metal device for snaring rabbits and other small game.
Papermaking. the woven wire mesh over which the wet pulp is spread in a papermaking machine.
the wire, the telephone: There's someone on the wire for you.


made of wire; consisting of or constructed with wires.
resembling wire; wirelike.

verb (used with object), wired, wir·ing.

to furnish with wires.
to install an electric system of wiring in, as for lighting.
to fasten or bind with wire: He wired the halves together.
to put on a wire, as beads.
to send by telegraph, as a message: Please wire the money at once.
to send a telegraphic message to: She wired him to come at once.
to snare by means of a wire.
to equip with a hidden electronic device, as an eavesdropping device or an explosive.
to connect (a receiver, area, or building) to a television cable and other equipment so that cable television programs may be received.
Informal. to be closely connected or involved with: a law firm wired into political circles.
Informal. to prepare, equip, fix, or arrange to suit needs or goals: The sales force was wired for an all-out effort.
Croquet. to block (a ball) by placing it behind the wire of an arch.

verb (used without object), wired, wir·ing.

to send a telegraphic message; telegraph: Don't write; wire.

Origin of wire

before 900; Middle English wir(e) (noun), Old English wīr; cognate with Low German wīr, Old Norse vīra- wire, Old High German wiara fine goldwork
Related formswir·a·ble, adjectivewire·like, adjectivede·wire, verb (used with object), de·wired, de·wir·ing.mis·wire, verb, mis·wired, mis·wir·ing.pre·wire, verb (used with object), pre·wired, pre·wir·ing.un·wir·a·ble, adjective
Can be confusedwhy're wire Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for pull wires



a slender flexible strand or rod of metal
a cable consisting of several metal strands twisted together
a flexible metallic conductor, esp one made of copper, usually insulated, and used to carry electric current in a circuit
(modifier) of, relating to, or made of wirea wire fence; a wire stripper
anything made of wire, such as wire netting, a barbed wire fence, etc
a long continuous wire or cable connecting points in a telephone or telegraph system
  1. an informal name for telegram, telegraph
  2. the wire an informal name for telephone
a metallic string on a guitar, piano, etc
horse racing, mainly US and Canadian the finishing line on a racecourse
a wire-gauze screen upon which pulp is spread to form paper during the manufacturing process
anything resembling a wire, such as a hair
a snare made of wire for rabbits and similar animals
to the wire or down to the wire informal right up to the last moment
get in under the wire informal, mainly US and Canadian to accomplish something with little time to spare
get one's wires crossed informal to misunderstand
pull wires mainly US and Canadian to exert influence behind the scenes, esp through personal connections; pull strings
take it to the wire to compete to the bitter end to win a competition or title

verb (mainly tr)

(also intr) to send a telegram to (a person or place)
to send (news, a message, etc) by telegraph
to equip (an electrical system, circuit, or component) with wires
to fasten or furnish with wire
(often foll by up) to provide (an area) with fibre optic cabling to receive cable television
to string (beads, etc) on wire
croquet to leave (a player's ball) so that a hoop or peg lies between it and the other balls
to snare with wire
wire in informal to set about (something, esp food) with enthusiasm
Derived Formswirelike, adjective

Word Origin for wire

Old English wīr; related to Old High German wiara, Old Norse vīra, Latin viriae bracelet



a thin length of cord, twine, fibre, or similar material used for tying, hanging, binding, etc
a group of objects threaded on a single stranda string of beads
a series or succession of things, events, acts, utterances, etca string of oaths
a number, chain, or group of similar things, animals, etc, owned by or associated with one person or bodya string of girlfriends
a tough fibre or cord in a plantthe string of an orange; the string of a bean
music a tightly stretched wire, cord, etc, found on stringed instruments, such as the violin, guitar, and piano
short for bowstring
architect short for string course, stringer (def. 1)
maths linguistics a sequence of symbols or words
linguistics a linear sequence, such as a sentence as it is spoken
physics a one-dimensional entity postulated to be a fundamental component of matter in some theories of particle physicsSee also cosmic string
billiards another word for lag 1 (def. 6)
a group of characters that can be treated as a unit by a computer program
(plural) complications or conditions (esp in the phrase no strings attached)
(modifier) composed of stringlike strands woven in a large mesha string bag; string vest
keep on a string to have control or a hold over (a person), esp emotionally
pull strings informal to exert personal influence, esp secretly or unofficially
pull the strings to have real or ultimate control of something
second string a person or thing regarded as a secondary source of strength
the strings (plural)
  1. violins, violas, cellos, and double basses collectively
  2. the section of a symphony orchestra constituted by such instruments

verb strings, stringing or strung (strʌŋ)

(tr) to provide with a string or strings
(tr) to suspend or stretch from one point to another
(tr) to thread on a string
(tr) to form or extend in a line or series
(foll by out) to space or spread out at intervals
(tr usually foll by up) informal to kill (a person) by hanging
(tr) to remove the stringy parts from (vegetables, esp beans)
(intr) (esp of viscous liquids) to become stringy or ropey
(tr often foll by up) to cause to be tense or nervous
billiards another word for lag 1 (def. 3)
Derived Formsstringlike, adjective

Word Origin for string

Old English streng; related to Old High German strang, Old Norse strengr; see strong
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for pull wires



Old English wir "metal drawn out into a thread," from Proto-Germanic *wiraz (cf. Old Norse viravirka "filigree work," Swedish vira "to twist," Old High German wiara "fine gold work"), from PIE *wei- "to turn, twist, plait" (cf. Old Irish fiar, Welsh gwyr "bent, crooked;" Latin viere "to bend, twist," viriæ "bracelets," of Celtic origin). Wiretapping is recorded from 1904, from earlier wiretapper (1893). Wirepuller in the political sense is 1848, American English.



Old English streng "line, cord, thread," from Proto-Germanic *strangiz (cf. Old Norse strengr, Danish streng, Middle Dutch strenge, Dutch streng, Old High German strang, German Strang "rope, cord"), from *strang- "taut, stiff," from PIE root *strenk- "tight, narrow; pull tight, twist" (see strain). Gradually restricted by early Middle English to lines that are smaller than a rope. Sense of "a number of objects arranged in a line" first recorded late 15c.

Old English meaning "ligaments, tendons" is preserved in hamstring, heartstrings. Meaning "limitations, stipulations" (1888) is American English, probably from the common April Fool's joke of leaving a purse that looks full of money on the sidewalk, then tugging it away with an attached string when someone stoops to pick it up. To pull strings "control the course of affairs" (1860) is from the notion of puppet theater. First string, second string, etc. in athletics (1863) is from archers' custom of carrying spare bowstrings in the event that one breaks. Strings "stringed instruments" is attested from mid-14c. String bean is from 1759; string bikini is from 1974.



c.1400, "to fit a bow with a string," from string (n.). Meaning "to thread (beads, etc.) on a string" is from 1610s. To string (someone) along is slang from 1902; string (v.) in this sense is attested in British dialect from c.1812.



"to furnish with wires," mid-15c., from wire (n.). Related: Wired; wiring.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with pull wires

pull wires

see pull strings.


In addition to the idioms beginning with string

  • string along
  • string out
  • strings attached
  • string together
  • string up

also see:

  • harp on (one string)
  • no strings attached
  • on a shoestring
  • on a string
  • pull strings
  • purse strings
  • tied to apron strings
  • two strings to one's bow


see down to the wire; get one's wires crossed; live wire; pull strings (wires); under the wire.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.