Ne tirez pas sur le pianiste

Ne tirez pas sur le pianiste
Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player
© David Scheel
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French Expression

Meaning This person is doing his/her best, Don’t shoot the messenger
Literally Don’t shoot the piano player
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Pronunciation French sound files [neu tee ray pah sur leu pyah neest]
IPA   [nə ti ʀe pa syr lə pja nist]

Usage notes: Movie buffs, have you ever noticed that westerns always seem to include a scene in a saloon, where there always seems to be a guy jauntily playing the piano, and a brawl always seems to break out that results in the piano player (and the mirror behind the bar) getting shot, either by mistake or because he stinks? The Wild West was such a dangerous place for piano players that, according to Oscar Wilde,* at least one saloon pleaded to gunslingers’ merciful side with a sign: "Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best."

Despite the distance between le Far-West and France, not to mention the dearth of saloons and cowboys in Europe, this expression made the transatlantic flight, perhaps thanks to the Lucky Luke comics, and became ne tirez pas sur le pianiste. It was almost certainly given new life in 1960 from François Truffaut’s film Tirez sur le pianiste.**

Like the reasons for the poor piano player getting shot, there are two reasons to use the expression ne tirez pas sur le pianiste.

1) To suggest going easy on someone, who is doing the best s/he can. (Lack of appreciation for a piano player is not reason enough to shoot him.)

Par exemple…

J’ai eu beau chercher vos clés pendant toute la journée, ne tirez pas sur le pianiste !   I spent all day searching in vain for your keys, don’t be mad – I did my best!

Synonymous expressions

  • faire ce qu’on peut
  • faire de son mieux
  • faire pour le mieux
  • faire tout son possible
  • s’efforcer de faire
2) To advise holding the person who actually caused a problem responsible, as opposed to the messenger. (Your dispute has nothing to do with the piano player’s talents, so don’t shoot him.)

Par exemple…

Votre femme m’a donné cette lettre pour vous, ne tirez pas sur le pianiste !   Your wife gave me this letter to give to you, please don’t shoot the messenger (i.e., me)!

Synonymous expressions

  • ne vous trompez pas de cible – literally, “don’t mistake the target”
  • c’est toujours la faute du lampiste (informal) – literally, “it’s always the underling’s fault” (meaning it’s always the underling who gets blamed)

Variations

Ne tirez pas sur le pianiste is the standard expression, but it’s possible to use other subjects:

  • Je ne tire pas sur le pianiste
  • On ne tire pas sur le pianiste
    etc.

Or the infinitive:

  • Il ne faut pas tirer sur le pianiste
  • Je vous prie de ne pas tirer sur le pianiste
  • Arrêtez de tirer sur le pianiste
    etc.

Antonymous expression (very rare)

  • Tirer sur le pianiste: Il a tiré sur le pianiste, Vous avez tiré sur le pianiste, etc.

* Oscar Wilde, in Impressions of America

** Georges Planelles, Les 1001 expressions préférées des Français

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Ne tirez pas sur le pianiste
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4 Responses

  1. Appius 1 July 2014 / 8:44

    Dans le film de François Truffaut “Tirez sur le pianiste” (Shoot the piano player) le rôle du pianiste Charlie Kohler est tenu par Charles Aznavour.

  2. Chris 29 June 2014 / 4:44

    “pull” for “shoot” I might assume derives from “wild west” gunspeak. Is it the “main” (or only) french word/phrase for “shoot”?

    I guess it may also derive from “Tir a l’arc”…

    • lkl 29 June 2014 / 5:43

      Yes, in reference to gun and bullets, tirer is the only way to say “to shoot.” For arrows, there’s also décocher.

  3. Andy 28 June 2014 / 17:00

    En tant que pianiste, je le trouve une très bonne idée de ne tirer pas ni sur moi ni sur n’importe quel autre musicien ! Même les banjoistes et accordionistes ont droit à leur vie.