Thursday, 25 March 2004

Sphairistike, Gossima and Whiff-Whaff

The first one became Lawn Tennis and the other two became Ping Pong.

This last onomatopoeia is not merely a nick-name: the Swedes and the Chinese, the two best in the world at playing it, call it something that sounds like pingpong, and French enthusiasts, who take it very seriously indeed, are quite content to be known as pongistes. If an astute manufacturer had not registered the name Ping Pong, the English Table Tennis Association might still be called, as it was until the 1920s, the Ping Pong Association. To my mind, it is “table tennis” which is the slightly contemptuous diminutive, like “clock golf” or “penny football”.
It is a sport which takes up very little space, but this gives its enthusiasts no sense of inferiority; the theme song of a Table Tennis World Championships in Serbia was translated as: "Our balls may be tiny but our aspirations are enormous". Anyway, it is not a reduced version of the sport that uses larger equipment – they just have common ancestors.

Not a lot of people know that Fred Perry won the men’s singles title at the third World Table Tennis Championships in Budapest in 1929. Later, of course, advancing years slowed his reflexes, and he concentrated on a less demanding sport…

P.S. George from SF informs me that the first computer game was launched in the US under the name Pong, and the same game launched in the UK was rebranded Ping.

[The world governing body described in the entry for 24th May 2004 is The International Table Tennis Federation]


Chris said...

I know this is an old post but...

Fred Perry is not the only table tennis player to have been successful at tennis as well - Ann Haydn Jones, to name but one. It seems to work from small to big (good table tennis players can be decent at tennis), but not the other way round.

Tony said...

Yes indeed, Chris, though Ann Haydon-Jones never got to the very top in table tennis in the way that her contemporaries the Rowe twins did.