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Why Do All Ping Pong Players Stutter?

By Dean Norman

“D-D-Do you have any p-p-p-ping p-p-p-ong b-b-bu-bu balls?”

“No. I'm sorry, but we don't sell ping pong balls.”

“Oh. W-w-well wh-wh-where can I b-b-b-uy p-p-p-ping p-p-pong bu-bu-bu-balls?”

“The sporting goods store around the corner probably sells them.”

“Th-th-thank you. Th-th-th-thank you v-v-very mu-mu-mu-much.”

This conversation happened often at a drug store in Iowa City. The University of Iowa Speech Pathology Clinic sent stutterers to the drug store to buy ping pong balls. They knew that the store did not have ping pong balls. The clinic had found out that if people who stuttered talked to strangers, and deliberately stuttered more than they usually stuttered, it got them over the fear of stuttering. Once they no longer were afraid to stutter, they began to stutter less, and could eventually be almost cured of stuttering.

At one time the clinic thought maybe stuttering was caused by parents and teachers who forced left-handed children to use their right hands. So they bought a ping pong table, and had right-handed stutterers play ping pong with their left hand. That treatment didn't help, but they kept the table because the staff and patients enjoyed playing ping pong. And because ping pong was such a good word to stutter on, they sent patients to the drug store with no ping pong balls to sell. This resulted in a longer conversation than if they went to a store that did have ping pong balls.

One day a stutterer asked for ping pong balls, and the drug store clerk handed him a box of ping pong balls. “We had so many people wanting to buy ping pong balls, we decided to stock them,” he said. “And no offense, but why does everyone who plays ping pong stutter?”

Bernie Stoll, a speech pathology grad student and expert table tennis player, told me this story. We were pleased to know that our favorite sport helped to cure stutterers.

They didn't even have to play ping pong. Just trying to buy p-p-p-ping p-p-p-pong b-b-b-balls was good medicine.

— Dean Norman

Dean Norman is a cartoonist and humor writer, whose work has appeared in greeting cards,The New Yorker, MAD Magazine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine and The Kansas City Star. He's also written comedy for cartoon shows and written and illustrated children's books. He illustrated a cartoon book for Cleveland Metroparks, Cleveland Metroparks Adventures.

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