Just like any sport, the game of bowling also has plenty of unique terms. Newbies often get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of bowling lingo and struggle to make sense out of the words that experts or seasoned bowlers throw around at the bowling alley.
If you are just starting, know that trying to comprehend everything in a short time is counter-productive. You will most likely end up jumbling the bowling terms and embarrassing yourself.
It’s better to start with the basics and work your way up. Learn the common terms first, like strike, break point, perfect game, and big four, and the rest will follow suit.
You must also be familiar with the USBC. The United States Bowling Congress is the official governing body for national ten-pin bowling in the US, or what most refer to as USA Bowling..
Now, let’s go through some of the most common bowling lingo terms often heard in bowling arenas. I am pretty certain you must have heard some of it one time at a bowling alley.
Bowling Basics and Terms on Technique
First, let’s dwell on some common bowling terms used by bowlers to describe a bowler’s technique or approach to the game.
For instance, you might hear a bowler at the bowling alley saying something along the lines of, “Damn! Kevin has a textbook approach. He generates plenty of power and revs on the ball. How could he possibly stay so balanced during the follow through? His angle of entry is always spot on.”
Let’s make sense of the highlighted terms.
Bowling approach refers to the steps a bowler takes before he releases the ball. Many bowlers take 4-5 steps before delivering the ball.
Approach is also a term used to describe the area of the lane behind the foul line.
When you are on the lane, you will see three sets of dots used by veterans of the game to line up their feet. That area of the lane is the approach area.
A change done by a bowler to be more competitive on a specific lane. This could be an equipment change, an alignment change, adjusting your spin on the ball, or others.
A bowler is said to have an area if he manages to bring the ball to the pocket after hitting a large number of boards (strips of wood measuring 1-inch wide; there are 39 strips of wood on a lane). Some scoring environments can award a 5-8 board area to a player.
The area behind the pin deck. It is where downed or swept pins are collected.
Revs is the number or rate of spin on the ball (action spin) before it hits the pin deck area. Many bowlers aim for a higher rev rate to better hook the ball, and thus increase the strike potential.
The ball track from the initial axis to the final axis.
The ball’s angle of rotation. A ball’s axis rotation is called side rotation.
Stands for Positive Axis Point, this is the point on the ball that is the same distance from every point in the ball’s track.
Follow-through is a term used to describe the action of the arm and hand after the ball leaves the hand. Experts direct their arms and hands upwards and towards the pin deck after release to get more accuracy on the ball.
Inconsistent footwork. An example is when a bowler places his slide foot´s inside edge on board 15 when approaching, but slides on board 12 at the foul line.
It is a term that describes the route of the ball when it hooks into the pocket or where exactly the ball enters the pocket.
The area on the lane at which the ball starts to hook. Locating this portion (breakpoint management) is critical to achieving consecutive strikes and winning a game.
You can change your breakpoint by adjusting your ball speed and ball surface, or choosing a ball better suited to the current lane oil.
A backup ball is a bowling ball that has a reverse spin on it. Instead of hooking the standard way, the ball hooks from another direction.
A right-handed bowler hooks the ball from the left space. Meanwhile, left-handers hook from right to left.
The bowling ball rack at the start of a lane.
Lane area where most bowling balls are thrown.
A bad rack is a set of pins with one or two badly positioned pins (which calls for a re-rack).
It is used to either describe a big hooking ball or a bowler that releases a big hooking ball.
The back ends are the lane’s far end where most hooks take place.
The side boards where pins often rebound back onto the lane, thus generating pin action.
This refers to the score given to an absent team member in a league play or team play, which is often the bowler’s average (often with a 10-pin penalty). This is different from the vacancy score which is a dummy score used when one team roster isn’t equal with the other.
A one-on-one game between two bowlers.
In league play or league bowling, this is the number of pins added to equalize competition.
The term for the 9th frame.
The material or the outer shell of a bowling ball.
When a coverstock is deemed “aggressive,” that means it features a high-friction material. A mild/mellow coverstock, meanwhile, refers t low-friction material which is the least sensitive when it comes to dry lanes.
As the name suggests, it’s a device used to spin the ball to allow for easy sanding or application of ball polish or oil conditioner.
Describing the Result of the Bowling Ball
Of course, there are terms bowlers use to describe skill levels or predict the outcome of the thrown bowling ball.
Let’s take a look at something Kevin might say to describe another bowler’s attempt, “The ball looked flush for a strike. How did it leave behind a stone 8? Thank God for it though! She could’ve had a turkey otherwise.”
A flush means a ball that hits the pocket nice and solid, usually destined to knock down all 10 pins.
To hit the pocket, a right-handed bowler aims for the area between the 1 and 3 pins. Meanwhile, lefties go for the space between the 1 and 2 pins.
Refers to the ball reaction when it first hits the lane surface.
Knocking down all 10 pins with the first ball is called a strike. Knocking down the remaining ones with the second ball when you didn’t get all pins with the first ball is called a spare.
Refers to when two pins are left standing after the first ball hits the lane, usually with a gap between them.
A 3-10 or 2-7 split.
This is what happens when a bowler ends a game with three consecutive strikes or more.
This is used to describe a situation in which the ball hits the pocket nice and solid but leaves the 8-pin standing.
A pocket hit that leaves the 4-7 pins for a right-handed bowler, and the 6-10 pins for left-handers.
Three strikes in a row. A feat of nine strikes in a row is described as a Golden Turkey.
A Four Bagger means four strikes in a row.
If you manage to do three consecutive strikes twice, you get a Six Pack (six strikes in a row).
This means a situation where a bowler hits the pocket but has the ball only slightly touching the leading pin; not a solid hit as a flush.
Getting one pin of a spare leave knocked down, without hitting another pin beside or directly behind it.
A situation wherein two pins directly behind each other are left after the first ball.
A frame with no spare or strike.
An extra hole on the ball surface not meant as a gripping hole (finger holes). This is different from the thumb hole.
A balance hole is meant to balance out the weight block, which could be the left side or right side when a ball is halved.
An added hole drilled to decrease suction from the thumb holes.
The area where the ball’s holes are drilled.
A ball provided by the bowling establishment.
A foul line is a line that separates the approach area from the lane.
The foul line indicates where the bowler must end his approach and release the ball. Failure to do so (going behind the foul line) results in a foul and the knocked down pin score will be discarded.
The channels are the dreaded hollow areas on either side of the bowling lane. No pins are hit when the ball ends up in these areas.
A bucket is a bunch of 4 pins left behind on a particular side.
The pins that lay on the lane despite being knocked down are known as deadwood. In a professional game, merely knocking down the pins isn’t good enough; the deadwood needs to be cleared as well.
When you knock down everything else except the 10-pin, it is called the Ring 10. In this situation, the pin action usually leads the pins to go around the 10-pin, failing to hit it.
Understandably, the first pin (1-pin) is also known as the head pin. Many bowlers try to hit the head pin, the 1-pin, too much on a strike attempt.
If your first ball release results in two pins remaining on the extreme sides, it is regarded as bed posts (the 7-10 split).
Big Four or Golden Gate
Big Four (also called Golden Gate) is used to refer to the pins 4, 6, 7, and 10 that remain untouched on the lane after the initial ball rolls out. In a nutshell, the Big Four is the 4-6-7-10 split.
If you find three pins on one side and a couple on the other, you can call it the Greek Church.
It’s either a 4-6-7-9-10 split or a 4-6-7-8-10 split. For example, a split between the 4 and 7 pins on one side and pins 6,9, and 10 on the other.
Note that this is different from the 7-10 split (bed posts).
The 5-7-10 split; also called lily.
A 1-3-6-10 or 1-2-4-7 split.
This is what happens when you hit the wrong side of the head pin. For right-handers, this is the head pin´s left side, and for left-handers, this is the right side of the head pin.
Talking about the Game
In New York (and possibly in most other places), when you are done with your bowling session and are on your way out of the bowling lane, chances are you’ll find bowlers talking about the game they bowled. If they did well, they could mention that they had a clean game, a deuce, a Dutch 200, or in exceptional cases, a perfect game.
Knocking down all 10 pins in 2 shots throughout the entirety of the game amounts to a clean game.
A clean game is also one with no open frames. Open frames mean having neither strike or spare.
Deuce refers to a game in which the bowler has scored 200 points or more.
This means a game where the bowler has scored exactly 200 points by alternating strikes and spares throughout each frame.
A perfect game is a feat of achieving 12 strikes in a row and scoring a maximum of 300 points.
A perfect game is what bowlers aim to do, but a set of 12 consecutive strikes is something even league bowling pros don’t always get to achieve, especially when lane conditions or oil patterns aren’t great.
Now that you know some of the most common terms in bowling lingo, I hope you feel more at home at the bowling center. Whether you’re into league bowling, spot bowling, or open bowling, this list of common bowling terms is sure to come in handy.
It doesn’t matter if you are serious about bowling or you just want to kill time or burn some calories—bowling is a lot more enjoyable when you can converse with other players and understand what they have to say about a bowling game.