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I recently listened to audiobook versions of the Don Winslow books "The Power of the Dog" and "The Cartel", which are about the Mexican drug trade. Although these are English-language titles, they frequently use Spanish words and phrases for certain things

One word that gets used frequently sounds like "piso". One gang or cartel will pay a "piso" (or however it is spelled) to another gang/cartel to operate in their territory. Judging from the context, my impression is that the word means something like "offering" or "toll".

Since the word is used frequently, I tried to look up its definition, but all I've found is that "piso" means "floor". However, I found that the verb "pisar" means "to set foot in", which seems close to the concept of paying to operate in someone else's territory, so perhaps the word is a (slang?) conjugation of "pisar"?

  • it is funny because in Sicily, the so-called "tax" that people have to pay to the Mafia is called "pizzo" and now I think I understand that they are related... – Portale Portale Feb 16 at 17:45
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The word is indeed piso, this is its first occurrence in The Cartel:

When Adán ruled the trade, it didn’t matter—he controlled the border crossings into El Paso, Laredo, and San Diego. But with him out of power, the Sinaloans have to pay a piso —a tax— to bring their product across.

And it seems to be a short form for derecho de piso, as this article shows:

Sin embargo, menos atención ha recibido el presunto aumento significativo en el tráfico de drogas a lo largo de la costa pacífica. El libro señala que el Cartel de Sinaloa ostenta un férreo control sobre el Pacífico mexicano, y que puede cobrar “derecho de piso” (una tarifa que les permite a los narcotraficantes operar en determinadas áreas) en la costa occidental del país.

According to this other article, the expression derecho de piso has its origins in a contribution that farm workers had to pay to the land owner for the right to build their houses in the land.

In modern usage the expression is used to describe any disadvantageous conditions newcomers have to accept before being treated as equals. (to pay your dues as Santiago's answer says)

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  • Thanks, particularly for quoting that line from the novel which I'd apparently forgotten. – user45623 Mar 10 '18 at 0:42
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There is a Spanish expression that goes "pagar derecho de piso" which is like the English "to pay their dues".

For example if you are new at school or the office people might be less nice to you at first until you prove yourself somehow. That's the common metaphorical meaning.

A more literal meaning is when you want to work somewhere and the owner of the place makes you pay a fee. Since this fee is usually fixed and it does not depend on how much money you make from your job, you could say that you are paying the owner just for the right to be standing there. Using his "floor".

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    the correct translation for this use of "piso" is ground, floor is more related to the structures inside a building, "derecho de piso" is related to a location, and not a building, so the correct translation should be "ground" (suelo) – Mike Mar 5 '18 at 21:53
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A veces se utiliza la expresión "pagar el piso" cuando recibes el primer sueldo/salario de tu vida y tienes que invitar a los amigos a celebrarlo. En España tiene un significado más literal, ya que piso equivale a departamento/apartamento, es decir "pagar el piso" en España sería pagar el alquiler/arriendo o la cuota de hipoteca del departamento/apartamento en que vives.... (No se si en algún país de Latinoamérica existe esta misma equivalencia entre piso y departamento/apartamento).

EN: There is the expression "pagar el piso", when you receive your first salary ever you have to celebrate it inviting your work mates. In Spain it has a more literal sense where piso means apartment, so "pagar el piso" in Spain could be understood as pay the rent or the mortgage fee of the apartment where you live (I don't know if at some Latin American country piso has the same use, I mean meaning apartment.)

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  • Lo siento, pero yo solo hablo un poco de español. It might be better to answer English questions in English for the benefit of the asker. – user45623 Mar 10 '18 at 0:39

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