in mechanics, "a movable piece so fitted as to fill the section of a tube and capable of being driven alternately in two directions by pressure on either side," 1704, from French piston "a piston," in Middle French "large pestle," from Old Italian pistone "a piston," variant of pestone "a pestle," from pestare "to pound," from Late Latin pistare, frequentative of Latin pinsere (past participle pistus) "to pound" (see pestle). As a verb, "to move like a piston," from 1930.
"moving backwards and forwards," 1690s, present-participle adjective from reciprocate (v.). Specifically of machines, "having reciprocating parts," by 1822.
Reciprocating engine. A form of engine in which the piston and piston-rod move back and forth in a straight line, absolutely relative to the cylinder, as in oscillating-cylinder engines: in contradistinction to rotary engine. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
1660s, "stopper, wedge," from Latin embolus "piston of a pump," from Greek embolos "peg, stopper; anything pointed so as to be easily thrust in," also "a tongue (of land), beak (of a ship)," from emballein "to insert, throw in, invade" from assimilated form of en "in" (see en- (2)) + ballein "to throw" (from PIE root *gwele- "to throw, reach"). Medical sense in reference to obstruction of a blood vessel is from 1866. Related: Embolic.
late 14c., chilindre, "portable sundial in the shape of a cylinder with a conical top," from Old French cylindre (14c.) and directly from Latin cylindrus "roller, cylinder," from Greek kylindros "a cylinder, roller, roll," from kylindein "to roll," which is of unknown origin.
From 1560s as "a solid figure which may be conceived as generated by the revolution of a rectangle about one of its sides." From 1690s as "chamber of a steam engine in which the force of the steam is exerted on the piston." By 1849 as "part of a revolver which contains the chamber for the cartridges." By 1878 as "cylindrical record for a phonograph."