A disk or cylindrical part tightly fitting and moving within a cylinder, either to compress or move a fluid collected in the cylinder, as air or water, or to transform energy imparted by a fluid entering or expanding inside the cylinder, as compressed air, explosive gases, or steam, into a rectilinear motion usually transformed into rotary motion by means of a connecting rod (Dictionary.com).
From Fr. piston, from M.Fr. piston "large pestle," from O.It. pistone "a piston," from pestare "to pound," from L.L. pistare, from pistare "to pound."