The word pistol was borrowed in the 1560s from Middle French pistole, which is thought to derive from the Czech word pištala, which described a specific type of hand-cannon that they used in the 1400s. Pištala could also mean "tube" or "pipe", but it most literally translates to "whistle", because the objects were thought to have a similar shape (as a speaker of Serbo-Croatian, I notice that the verb for "whistling", pištanje, is also related). That derives from Proto-Slavic piskati, meaning "squeak" or "whistle", and ultimately is onomatopoeic of the sound of whistling. Since reaching widespread usage in the late eighteenth century, usage of the word pistol has been fairly constant. The verb pistol-whip was first recorded in 1942 and pistol-butt is from 1914.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.