It's table tennis, NOT ping-pong (2024)

The 2024 Paris Olympic Games will welcome back the fastest sport played on a tabletop: table tennis.

Have you called it ping pong before? Excusez-Moi but that is an Olympic faux pas. The sport is formally recognized internationally and Olympically as table tennis.

Confused? NBC Olympics breaks down the history of table tennis, and why you might have called it ping-pong.

The history of table tennis

The advent of table tennis dates back to the late 1800s when the wealthy Victorians in England created an indoor version of lawn tennis using items around the house to assemble a makeshift tennis court. Rubber and cork balls were the common materials used in the first iteration of the table tennis ball.

As table tennis grew in popularity, sports equipment manufacturers and businesses filed patents related to the burgeoning game. In 1883, sports equipment company Slazenger, now known as the official ball sponsor of Wimbledon, filed a patent for a net in which table tennis was mentioned.

In 1901, the Table Tennis Association was formed in England, and just four days later, the Ping Pong Association was founded. Two years later, the two merged in a joint effort to promote the sport.

The sport of table tennis was ratified in 1926 after a series of meetings held in London and Berlin, which ultimately led to the formation of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).

While the first World Championships were held the same year as the formation of the ITTF, table tennis did not debut at the Olympics until 1988 at the Seoul Games.

It's table tennis, NOT ping-pong (1)

Table tennis on board a Red Star Line passenger ship, 1907. The Red Star Line ran between Antwerp in Belgium, Dover in England and New York in the USA. Postcard.

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So, where did ping-pong come from?

Celluloid balls were introduced into the budding table tennis game in 1900. They produced the perfect bounce and became a staple of the table tennis equipment set.

Not only did the celluloid ball produce the perfect pop, but players and spectators alike became fascinated by the significant sound that emanated with each bounce off the paddle. People began to call the sport by that same distinct sound, and variants of the game's name started to sprout up, including whiff-whaff, pom-pom, clip-clap and ping-pong.

As the game became ubiquitous, two names prevailed: table tennis and ping-pong. To capitalize on the game, a company named J. Jaques & Son Ltd. trademarked "ping-pong" in 1901 and manufactured table tennis sets under the same name. In the 1920s, the game crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The Parker Brothers, creators of the board game Monopoly, acquired the rights to ping-pong and started distributing ping-pong sets in the states.

It's table tennis, NOT ping-pong (2)

Boy holding two Parker Brothers Ping Pong equipment sets, standing in front of oak trees at South Park for Pittsburgh Courier newsboys picnic, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in 1960.

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With the prevalence of ping-pong game on the shelves of local stores, ping-pong became a widely accepted and understood name for the game of table tennis. The term ping-pong has gone through what is referred to as a "genericide", when a brand name loses it's distinguishing identity and just refers to the product or service of its kind. It's akin to how people refer to tissues as "Kleenex," the brand name of a tissue.

Today, ping-pong refers to the recreational, leisure activity of the sport of table tennis. Table tennis is still the internationally recognized formal name of the sport.

Ping-pong's political and pop culture legacy

At the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships held in Nagoya, Japan, the Chinese team was under strict government orders not to interact with the Americans, as relations between the two countries had been tense since the start of the Cold War.

During the tournament, 19-year-old American table tennis player Glenn Cowan boarded the Chinese team's shuttle bus. Zhuang Zedong, the best Chinese table tennis team player, outstretched his hand to Cowan to shake, and the two started to communicate through an interpreter. By the end of the conversation, Zedong gave Cowan a picture of the Huangshan mountains in China. The next day, Cowan reciprocated Zedong's gesture and gifted him a t-shirt with the peace sign. Photographers captured the exchange, and the goodwill between the countries became international headlines. Before the tournament concluded, the U.S. table tennis team was met with a surprising offer – an all-expense paid trip to China, courtesy of the Chinese government and Chairman Mao.

After getting clearance from the government and President Nixon, nine U.S. table tennis players traveled to China to play exhibition table tennis matches. These "friendship matches," as they were called, marked the first time Americans visited China in decades and historically helped improve country and cultural relations. President Nixon documented the momentous sporting occassion in his memoir, and thus, the term "ping-pong diplomacy" was born.

I had never expected that the China initiative would come to fruition in the form of a ping-pong team.

It's table tennis, NOT ping-pong (3)

Players of China and the United States take part in a table tennis friendly match in Beijing, China, April 13, 1971.

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The visit to China has been recorded in countless publications and reenacted in the 1994 film Forrest Gump. The fictional character Forrest Gump found himself on disabled leave from the Vietnam War and picked up what he called ping-pong.

"I was so good that some years later, the Army decided I should be on the All-America ping-pong team," said Forrest Gump in the film.

The name ping-pong inspired the virtual world, when video game manufacturer Atari developed the game Pong. The game was the digital version of table tennis, and the name derives from ping-pong. Pong was the first commercially successful video game and changed gaming forever.

Beside the silver screen and the digital game front, ping-pong is still regularly referenced to this day, on TV, at your local recreation center, and even in song – thanks to musical artist Enrique Iglesias, who sampled the sound of a table tennis ball bounce in a song. The song is aptly titled, "Do You Know? (The Ping Pong Song)". It's a surprise that Iglesias used the sound of a table tennis ball, not a tennis ball, as Iglesias's partner is former Olympic tennis participant Anna Kournikova.

So, this summer, as the top table tennis players take to the court, make sure to remember that it's table tennis, NOT ping-pong.

Unless of course, you're Forrest Gump.

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It's table tennis, NOT ping-pong (2024)


Which is correct, ping pong or table tennis? ›

The correct title for the sport in the UK and most of the rest of the world is "table tennis". This is because "ping pong" is a trade mark, number 233177, registered by the London toy importers and manufacturers Hamley Brothers on 20 September 1900 for their version of table tennis manufactured by John Jaques & Son.

What is a famous quote about table tennis? ›

"The mind controls the body, and the body controls the ball." "When you hit a winner, it is all about your mental state." "When you face a tough opponent, it's important to stay mentally strong and never give up." "You have to be able to stay focused and adapt to your opponent's game."

Why is it called table tennis and not ping pong? ›

A similar situation arose in the United States, where Jaques sold the rights to the "ping-pong" name to Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers then enforced its trademark for the term in the 1920s, making the various associations change their names to "table tennis" instead of the more common, but trademarked, term.

What do table tennis players say? ›

Players from all over the world—China, Slovenia, Britain, Germany, Korea, America, Romania, Japan and more—have embraced the cheer as part of the sport's culture. "For the most part, a lot of players say 'Cho,'" Kumar said. "Some players say 'come on,' or 'let's go,' or something in their own language similar to that.

Do Americans say table tennis or ping-pong? ›

Although table tennis and ping pong are essentially the same game and are terms used synonymously, the difference is one of perception: table tennis is an Olympic sport and ping pong is mostly referred to as just a hobby or recreational activity.

Is it okay to call table tennis ping-pong? ›

This extra bounce gives the game the onomatopoeic name of pingpong – which is why some call it “ping pong” and others refer to it as table tennis. However, all the other rules and gameplay are identical to table tennis.

What is a funny ping-pong quote? ›

Funny ping pong captions for instagram

I don't always play ping pong, but when I do, I win. Ping pong: the perfect excuse for ridiculous faces. Life is too short to play boring ping pong. Warning: highly skilled ping pong player at work.

What is the nickname for table tennis? ›

Table tennis, a recreational activity and an Olympic sport since 1988, is also known by the term 'ping-pong'.

What did table tennis used to be called? ›

The game was invented in England in the early days of the 20th century and was originally called Ping-Pong, a trade name. The name table tennis was adopted in 1921–22 when the old Ping-Pong Association formed in 1902 was revived.

Why do we say ping-pong and not pong ping? ›

It notably originates from the onomatopoeic sound of the ball that appeared in the Far East in 1884: 'ping' is imitative of the sound of a bat striking a ball and 'pong' equates to the sound of the bounce on the table.

Is it table tennis or ping pong ball? ›

Table Tennis Balls (Ping pong balls) are spherical polymer balls fabricated specifically for the sport. Ping pong balls are colored as either white or orange depending on the table surface and game style.

Is table tennis called ping-pong in China? ›

Pīngpāng qiú (Chinese: 乒乓球) is the official name for the sport of table tennis in China. Table tennis in China is regulated by the Chinese Table Tennis Association.

What is the shout in table tennis? ›

Many players, including professionals, will shout in celebration. "Cho" is the most common word of celebration. While celebration is good, excessive (and excessively loud) celebration is often considered rude and distracting.

What do Americans call table tennis? ›

The name "ping-pong" then came to be used for the game played by the rather expensive Jaques's equipment, with other manufacturers calling it table tennis. A similar situation arose in the United States, where Jaques sold the rights to the "ping-pong" name to Parker Brothers.

What does cho lei mean in table tennis? ›

The meaning of Cho-lei

“le” means “again, one more”. So “Cho-le” is “good ball again”, “one more”. “Cho-le! Cho” is like “One more, good ball!” Cho and Cho-lei are origins from Chinese table tennis players.

Is the game of table tennis also called ping-pong? ›

Table tennis, also known as ping-pong and whiff-whaff, is a sport in which two or four players hit a lightweight ball, also known as the ping-pong ball, back and forth across a table using small rackets. The game takes place on a hard table divided by a net.

What is the proper name of table tennis? ›

The game was invented in England in the early days of the 20th century and was originally called Ping-Pong, a trade name. The name table tennis was adopted in 1921–22 when the old Ping-Pong Association formed in 1902 was revived.


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