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Ne tirez pas sur le pianiste !

French expressions analyzed and explained

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Expression: Ne tirez pas sur le pianiste !

Pronunciation: [neu tee ray pah sur leu pyah neest]

Meanings: This person is doing his/her best, Don't shoot the messenger

Literal translation: Don't shoot the pianist

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Notes: According to Georges Planelles*, the French expression ne tirez pas sur le pianiste comes from le Far-West. Have you ever noticed that in just about every movie about the American West—and the French comics based on them, like Lucky Luke—at least one scene takes place in a saloon, complete with a piano player for atmosphere? And that whenever a gunfight breaks out, the piano player is always hit by a stray bullet? Or, if he's a lousy player, he's shot on purpose? For whatever reason, Wild West pianists were so endangered that at least one saloon** had a sign posted above the piano: "Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best." Somehow, despite the lack of saloons and gunslingers in France, this sign—or at least its translation—made it across the Atlantic, and covers the figurative meanings behind both of these potential pianist-getting-shot scenarios.

1) You can use ne tirez pas sur le pianiste as an admonishment to go easy on a person who might not be perfect, but is doing the best he or she can. (You might not like the pianist's playing style or song choice, but there's no need to shoot him.)

   Sandrine a vainement cherché une solution, ne tirez pas sur le pianiste !
   Sandrine tried in vain to find a solution, she did her best.

Synonyms:
  • faire de son mieux
  • faire pour le mieux
  • faire tout son possible
     
2) Or you can say ne tirez pas sur le pianiste to advise someone to blame/punish the person who is actually reponsible for a problem, rather than the person who brings it to your attention. (Whatever problem you might be having is not the pianist's fault, so don't shoot him.)

   Quelqu'un est rentré dans votre voiture, mais je vous prie, ne tirez pas sur le pianiste !
   Someone ran into your car, but please don't shoot the messenger (i.e., me)!

Synonyms:
  • ne vous trompez pas de cible - literally, "don't make a mistake about the target"
  • c'est toujours la faute du lampiste (informal) - literally, "it's always the underling's fault" (i.e., it's always the underling who gets blamed)
     
Variations: Ne tirez pas sur le pianiste is by far the most common form, but you might also hear this expression with other subjects, like On ne tire pas sur le pianiste and Je ne tire pas sur le pianiste, or in the infinitive: Merci de ne pas tirer sur le pianiste, Il ne faut pas tirer sur le pianiste, Arrêtez de tirer sur le pianiste. It's also possible, though extremely rare, to use it in the affirmative: Il a tiré sur le pianiste


*Les 1001 expressions préférées des Français

**Oscar Wilde, in Impressions of America


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