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29Jul

A brief history of ‘ping’, from gun fights to the NHS Covid-19 app

The word ‘pingdemic’ is spreading as fast as the pandemic. But the meanings of ping stretch from the wild west to showjumping

Are you enjoying the pingdemic? Huge numbers of people are being told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid-19 app, which issues the instruction even if you have been sitting on the other side of a solid wall from an infected person. But what exactly is a “ping”?

From the early 19th century, “ping” was used onomatopoeically for a high-pitched metallic sound, and also for the sound of bullets flying overhead or ricocheting, perhaps borrowing some of the older sense of “ping”, to prick or stab (from the Latin pungere). From 1983, it could also mean a message sent from one computer to another to establish a connection, and so our modern use combines both.

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