Ping-Pong or Table Tennis: Which Is Correct?

Table Tennis Racket and balls

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Perhaps a look at the history of table tennis/ping-pong will give us a clue as to what we should be calling our favorite sport.

According to the ITTF website, the first use of the name "Table Tennis" appeared on a board and dice game made by J.H. Singer of New York in 1887, showing that the phrase "table tennis" had been around at least since then.

In 1901, John Jacques registered "Ping-Pong" as a trade name in England, and the American rights were sold to Parker Brothers. On the 12th of December 1901, "The Table Tennis Association" was formed in England and four days later, "The Ping-Pong Association" was also formed in England. These two associations would later merge in 1903 to become "The United Table Tennis and Ping-Pong Association", and then would eventually change back to "The Table Tennis Association" before dying out in 1904.

This seems to suggest that the names ping-pong and table tennis were fairly interchangeable at the origin of the sport. And as Parker Brothers were apparently very aggressive in protecting their rights to the trade name "Ping-Pong" in America, it is perhaps understandable that when the game began to revive in England and Europe in the 1920's, the name table tennis was preferred to ping-pong to avoid trademark disputes. It would also explain why the governing body of the sport is the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).

So as far as history is concerned, the names ping-pong and table tennis were equally valid when referring to the sport. So much for the past—what about the present?

Ping-Pong vs Table Tennis Now

In modern times, it seems that our sport has split into two camps—the recreational players who tend to use the phrase ping-pong and table tennis interchangeably and treat it as a game or past-time, and the serious players who call it table tennis almost exclusively and view it as a sport. (This distinction stands with the possible exception of China, where apparently the phrase ping-pong is still popular for the sport and past-time.)

While most recreational players don't really care what the sport is called (as they are too busy having fun), some serious players take offense at the sport being called ping-pong, associating the phrase with basement level play. They believe that the name table tennis should be used exclusively, since they feel that this is more appropriate for the image of the sport.

Personally, I used to be one of these players who disliked the use of the phrase ping-pong, but nowadays I really don't care whether the general public or other players call the sport ping-pong or table tennis as long as they are talking about it! Although I must admit, in my own conversation I will always use table tennis, since I've been using that name for so long it just feels natural. And if someone else calls the sport ping-pong, I tend to think that person is a beginner, since I don't know many advanced players over here in Australia who use ping-pong instead of table tennis.


Perhaps we should call the serious sport table tennis, and the fun basement version ping-pong? While both phrases are technically correct, I'd certainly recommend that new players who are visiting a table tennis club or playing in their first tournament stick to using table tennis instead of ping-pong. That way you'll always be correct, and you won't risk offending any serious players who might not like the sport being called ping-pong—although I personally think the sport faces more important challenges at present than whether people call it ping-pong or table tennis.

As Shakespeare might say if he was around today—"the game, by any other name, would be as sweet" but maybe our motto should be "don't worry how you say it—just play it!"