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Bowling Terms: Slang, Phrases and Other Terminology

At times, you might find yourself confused by all of the special terms that you’ll hear other bowlers talking about. But it doesn’t have to be intimidating!

This page will go over the definitions of many common terms so you’ll be able to stay on top of all the lingo. Let us know by leaving a comment if you have one you think we should add!

Bowling Terms – A to Z

Approach – The act of taking steps towards the lane before rolling the ball; also the name of the area directly behind the foul line that contains three sets of dots used for lining up of the feet.

Angle of Entry – The direction that a bowling ball takes when hooking into the pocket.

Backup Ball – A ball thrown with reverse spin: hooking from left to right for right-handers and right to left for left-handers.

Big Four or Big Ears – 4-6-7-10 split (also Double Pinochle, Golden Gate)

Bed Posts – Another way to refer to the 7-10 split

Blind – In league play, when one of the members of a team is not present, using his or her average instead (often with a ten pin penalty)

Boards – One-inch wide strips of wood that you can see along the width of the bowling lane. There are 39 boards in total, and are numbered from right to left for right-handed bowlers. (Lefties count from left to right.)

Brooklyn – Hitting the wrong side of the head pin. For a right-handed bowler this would be the left side of the head pin, also known as the 1-2 pocket. For left-handers this would be reversed. (A Brooklyn Strike occurs when a bowler scores a strike by hitting the Brooklyn side.)

Carry – The ability of the bowling ball to knock down more pins.

Cincinatti – Nickname for the 8-10 split.

Clean Game – A game with no open frames, that is, in which all the frames are either a strike or spare.

Dead Wood – Pins that have been knocked over but stay sitting on the lane or in the gutter, as a result of having missed being cleared away. They must be cleared as soon as possible in an official game.

Double Pinochle – 4-6-7-10 split. (Also Big Four, Big Ears, Golden Gate)

Dry – Lanes that have been applied with little oil. This causes the ball to hook more than usual

Fingertip – A bowling grip in which your fingers are only inserted up to the first joint. It results in more hook, but is much harder to control. For this reason it is a grip for intermediate and advanced players.

Five-Bagger – Five consecutive strikes

Foul Line – The line that marks the start of a bowling lane. If your foot crosses the line, it is known as a fault and zero pins are scored. (If pins were knocked down, the pins are reset before the second ball is thrown.)

Four-Bagger – Four consecutive strikes

Golden Gate – 4-6-7-10 Split (Also Big Four, Big Ears, Double Pinochle)

Handicap – Usually reserved for league play, this term refers to an amount of pins added to your actual score that is meant to even the playing field for bowlers of differing skill levels. Handicaps are what makes bowling so inclusive; anyone can compete against anyone else regardless of their experience.

Head Pin – The pin that stands at the front and closest to the bowler; also known as the 1 pin.

House Ball – Bowling balls that are provided by the alley, compared to a ball that you have purchased yourself.

Leadoff Man – In league bowling, the member of the team who bowls first.

Lift – The upward motion of a bowling ball that is created by the release of your fingers.

Lofting – A common problem for bowlers, this means throwing the ball so it hits the lane hard instead of smoothly rolling it. Often a problem of timing in the release.

Moat – Another way to refer to the gutter.

Open – a frame in which the bowler does not achieve a strike or spare

Open Bowling – Bowling for recreation, as opposed to a league or tournament

Perfect Game – A game of 300, only possible by throwing 12 consecutive strikes.

Pocket – The area directly in between the head pin and the one right beside it; the 1-3 pins for right handers and 1-2 pins for lefties. The pocket is the best spot at which to aim because its angle has the best chance of knocking down all of the pins.

Quick Eight – A good pocket hit which leaves the 4-7 for right-handers, 6-10 for lefties

Revolutions – Refers to the number of turns a bowling ball takes on its way down the lane.

Rotation – The spin put on the bowling ball at the point of delivery.

Sandbagger – In handicap league bowling, a bowler who purposely keeps his or her average down so as to get a higher handicap. This practice is frowned upon.

Sixpack – Six consecutive strikes.

Split – When two or more pins remain standing after the first ball, but with a gap in between them. It is typically quite difficult to knock them both down and pick up the spare. The 7-10 split is the most difficult, and others vary in difficulty.

Spot Bowling – Bowling by aiming at a specific spot on the lane, which might be a specific board or arrow.

Strike Out – To finish a game with all strikes. Also used to refer to getting three strikes in the tenth frame. As opposed to baseball, it’s a good thing in bowling!

Turkey – Rolling three consecutive strikes in one bowling game.


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11 Responses to Bowling Terms: Slang, Phrases and Other Terminology
    May 19, 2011 | 8:01 pm

    What are the slang names for the 4 6 7 10 split?

    • Joseph (BBT Writing Staff)
      May 25, 2011 | 2:13 pm

      Hi William. Many bowlers refer to it as the “big four,” but it can also be known as the “big ears,” “double pinochle” and even “golden gate.” It’s definitely a split with a bunch of nicknames, and thanks for asking!

  2. chicka
    October 7, 2011 | 2:53 pm

    i heared a few people say ur in the sh*t house at the bowling ally what does that mean?????

    • Joseph (BBT Writing Staff)
      October 7, 2011 | 3:18 pm

      This can mean a score of 111 in bowling.

      Also, it might simply refer to something that isn’t good. But I would guess the score. Does that seem to fit what they were saying?

  3. Tracy Thompson
    November 30, 2011 | 10:57 pm

    There is a beginners tournament at my local centre this weekend and the flyer mentioned 9NOTAP. What does this mean please?

    • Joseph (BBT Writing Staff)
      December 1, 2011 | 12:32 am

      Hi Tracy,

      That is referring to 9-pin no tap, which is a form of bowling scoring.

      9-pin no tap means that a ball that knocks down 9 pins or more is counted as a strike. This makes it easier for bowlers to score highly, and the format is used in various events.

  4. semaj
    March 23, 2012 | 3:47 pm

    I’d like to know how many different ways there are to simply refer to “bowling” or “go bowling”

    • Joseph (BBT Writing Staff)
      September 13, 2013 | 5:36 pm

      Hmm, that’s a good question. There aren’t really many direct synonyms for bowling. Slang phrases are common, however, including “hit the lanes,” “hit the alley,” “roll a few games,” and “go roll.” These can vary from place to place so there are probably a lot more out there.

      There are also varieties of bowling, not exactly synonyms, such as skittles, duckpins, and candlepins so those could be another way to refer to it in some cases.

  5. Richard Fuller
    February 10, 2016 | 1:39 pm

    Dear Friends… The 7-10 split can be also called “snake eyes” The 4-6-7-10 can be called a railroad like railroad tracks. The 5 pin is traditionally called the ‘king pin’ I’m sure there are more regional words for pin leaves. Rich 🙂

    • Joseph (BBT Writing Staff)
      February 12, 2016 | 7:53 am

      Thanks Rich! Those are some good ones. And you’re definitely right; I’m sure there are a lot of other regional variations out there. Hopefully others will continue to chime in here.

  6. Wally
    February 1, 2018 | 6:11 am

    Don’t forget about “ the bucket “ , that’s when you leave the 2,4,5 & 8 pins or the 3,5,6&9 pins .

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