The terms “table tennis” and “ping pong” are usually used as synonyms. I even use “Ping Pong” on this website (pingpongguide.com) and actually refer to table tennis. Even Wikipedia says that table tennis can also be called “ping-pong”. But actually, the terms no longer refer to the same sport.
After “ping pong” and “table tennis” were different names for the same sport for a long time, there has been a clear separation since 2011. Ping pong” refers to a slightly modified form of table tennis, for which official world championships are held.
In this article, I will explain how exactly the names came about and why there is a difference between “table tennis” and “ping pong”.
Why were there two terms for the same sport?
There is no consensus on the exact origin of the story but it most likely happened something like this:
Tennis was very popular in England at the end of the 19th century. Especially because it was common at that time to play on lawn, it was usually not possible to play tennis in winter.
With this in mind, tennis players developed a miniature version of the popular sport. Thus, in 1884, the “Miniature Indoor Tennis Game” was patented, which rather quickly became known as table tennis.
When the game became popular among the population, many companies began to produce equipment for it, coining different names.
However, the game was often called “Ping Pong” because of the sound the ball made when it was played. In other countries, it was also called “Whiff-Whaff” or “Pim-Pam” (France).
In 1901, “Ping Pong” was trademarked by the English manufacturer J. Jaques & Son Ltd as the name of the game, so other companies had to use the name “Table Tennis” and not “Ping Pong” for their products.
Thus, there were many different names for exactly the same game. The two most popular ones were “Table Tennis” and “Ping Pong”.
At times, there were even 2 associations for the sport at the same time: In 1910, both the “Table Tennis Association” and the “Ping Pong Association” existed before the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), which still exists today, was founded in 1926.
What is the difference between table tennis and ping pong?
So, looking at the history, it is no wonder that the terms “table tennis” and “ping pong” are used synonymously.
However, over time, at least a conceptual distinction developed between the terms. While “ping pong” was used primarily for casual play at the amateur level, “table tennis” was used to describe the sport as it continued to develop.
This can be seen in the fact that the international federation and the corresponding competitions have “table tennis” in their names and not “ping pong”.
The official separation of the terms
That’s right! In the meantime, the terms officially designate different sports, even if colloquially “table tennis” and “ping pong” are still the same for many.
What are the differences between ping pong and table tennis?
If you watch both world championships, you will quickly realize that there is not a great difference between the two games. Many of the rules and playing styles are the same. The only differences are in terms of the paddles and the way they are counted:
Ping Pong Rackets
In Ping Pong, all players play with the same racket. This is a racket with a 5-ply sandpaper surface. So in contrast to the rubberized table tennis racket, you practically just play with the blade.
You can get such a racket for less than 10$. So if you want to try the official Ping at home, you can do so for very little money:
The characteristics of the racket change the game immensely, of course. Due to the missing rubber, the strokes generate less spin and speed. The rallies are therefore often longer but less spectacular as with the better-known counterpart.
Counting points in Ping Pong
Unlike table tennis (which is played to 11), ping pong is played to 15, with a best of 3 (usually best of 7 in table tennis) in most matches and a best of 5 in the semifinals and finals of the tournament.
Ping Pong as a Table Tennis Variation
Many people may know Ping Pong as a table tennis variant. That’s how it was for me before I got deeper into the subject.
You play with normal table tennis bats. The difference is that the ball can touch any side of the ping pong table on any stroke, not just the serve.
If I say to my friends that I want to play ping pong, they would all understand this variation under the term “ping pong”.
Many names – One game
Even though “ping pong” and “table tennis” now actually refer to different sports ( which are, admittedly, extremely similar), the main thing with terms and names is how they are understood.
Whoever talks about “Ping Pong” nowadays means 99% table tennis on hobby level or – in my case – a slight modification of table tennis.
In common language, especially when talking about accessories and tips, table tennis and “ping pong” will remain interchangeable terms, which is why our name pingpongguide.com is a good fit 😉