The Meaning of Ping

The popular term has surprising origins

The word

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In the age of internet communication and mobile texting, the word "ping" simply means to get in touch (via our devices). Decades ago, however, before email and Facebook and smartphones and the internet itself existed, "ping" meant something very different.

What "Ping" Means Today and How We Use It

The word "ping" is essentially a reference to the signal that's sent from one electronic device to another when the aim is to communicate. In fact, the word itself even sounds like the noise a device might make when it receives the signal to communicate.

Today, "ping" is a verb we often use in place of words like "email," "text," "private message," or even "call." Instead of saying, "text me" or "message me," someone might say, "ping me."

"Ping" is a preferred word to use when you want to ask someone to get in touch electronically, but you don't have a specific preference of how you want them to get in touch with you (otherwise you'd just say email, Facebook message, call, etc.). In other words, you leave them free to use whichever form of electronic communication they want.

Examples of How We Use the Word "Ping"

"Ping me in the afternoon to let me know how the meeting went."

"I'll ping you tomorrow around lunch."

"Can you ping John? We need his input on this project ASAP."

The Origins of the Word "Ping"

The word "ping" has its roots in sonar. Typically done underwater, sonar involves setting off sound waves to basically "see" the surrounding environment. The sound waves bounce off of other objects and the sea floor so that watercraft can measure depth and the distance between objects for navigation purposes.

During World War II, ships would use sonar in an effort to detect enemy submarines. This is where the word "ping" came to be associated not only with an electronic signal, but also an electronic sound.

Of course, during the war the word "ping" didn't have the innocent, casual meaning that it has today. Instead, it was associated with the threat of danger.

The Evolution of the Word "Ping"

In the very early days of computers and internet technology, the meaning of ping started to evolve into something more modern. According to the Dictionary by Merriam-Webster, Michael Muuss was the computer scientist who wrote the modern day "ping" code back in 1983—taking his inspiration from echo-location while trying to troubleshoot a computer network issue.

The computer code that he wrote triggered a host computer to set off an echo-like signal (an "echo request') to a remote computer in order to check its online or offline status. Its status could then be determined by its response (an "echo reply").

"Ping" in the Web 2.0 Era

The transition from a static web (Web 1.0) to a more dynamic and interactive web (Web 2.0) gave rise to new ways for the word "ping" to be used, particularly among blogs and social networks.

For blogs, the word "ping" refers to the XML-RPC signal a blog sends to another server in order to notify it of newly updated content. Today, there are all sorts of blog ping services that automatically ping search engines on behalf of bloggers to help them get their content indexed faster.

In social networking, "ping" refers to the share or post activity of an external link from a website. A social sharing plugin installed on that website might display the share count number on that web page, which essentially represents the number of "pings" that that particular web page received.