pull strings

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Suggesting a puppet show, where characters are moved by pulling attached strings.


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pull strings (third-person singular simple present pulls strings, present participle pulling strings, simple past and past participle pulled strings)

  1. (intransitive, idiomatic) To manipulate a situation, especially by asking favours of others; to use one's influence with others to attain a desired goal.
    He has the job not because of talent, but because his dad pulled strings with the boss.
  2. (intransitive, idiomatic, often with “the” or a possessive adjective (such as “his”) before “strings”, pull one's strings) To control a person, organization, or situation by operating behind the scenes, as a puppeteer controls a marionette.
    • 1986, Metallica (music), “Master of Puppets”, in Master of Puppets:
      Master of Puppets, I'm pulling your strings
    • 1992, Richard Berke, "The 1992 Campaign: Political Memo," New York Times, 3 April (retrieved 18 July 2010):
      Mr. Brown is touchy about accusations that he is a packaged candidate, and bristles at the suggestion that Mr. Caddell pulls his strings.
    • 2003, Michael Elliott et al., "The War That Never Ends," Time, 7 July:
      "It may have begun that way," says a senior Pentagon official, "but as these attacks grow more numerous, you get the sense that there's someone pulling the strings at a higher level."
    • 2011 September 29, Jon Smith, “Tottenham 3 - 1 Shamrock Rovers”, in BBC Sport[1]:
      But with the lively Dos Santos pulling the strings behind strikers Pavlyuchenko and Defoe, Spurs controlled the first half without finding the breakthrough their dominance deserved.
    • 2020 July 29, Paul Clifton, “Rail nationalisation moves a step closer”, in Rail, page 8:
      "The DfT is pulling all the strings. It is making every decision. It is telling companies what they can and cannot spend, right down to very small amounts of money. That's the reason they will declare the train operators to be under public control."