Bowling Terms Explained: A-Z

When you have been to the bowling alley, you may have noticed people shouting words like ‘Turkey!’, ‘Cincinnati!’, or ‘Dead Wood!’ while you are playing.

Bowling Terms Explained A-Z

No, this isn’t code to get more beer but is in fact part of a long list of bowling jargon and slang that is code, but for bowling-related terms.

When you are a beginner to the game these terms are very confusing as the words often have little to do with the game or the meaning of the real word, or the slang.

If you are trying to get more into competitive bowling, and don’t want to get embarrassed, or you are just curious about the goings-on at your local alley, this is the article for you.

In this article, we are going to provide an A-Z glossary of all the bowling terms we have come across, as well as some explanations. Keep reading to become fluent in bowling terminology.

Glossary Of Bowling Terms And Phrases


This is quite literally how you approach the throw line, you may be shocked to learn that this ‘approach’ can affect your throwing technique quite a lot which is why this part of your pre-throw posture is compartmentalized into its own term.

Angle of Entry

Similarly, this describes the direction that a bowling ball will take when approaching the pins. For instance, hitting it ‘head on’ or hitting it from the left side, etc. Again, this affects your success greatly so it is often talked about using this phrase.

Backup Ball

This simply refers to throwing a ball with a reverse spin.

Big Four/Big Ears

A specific term that refers to either a 4-6 or 7-10 split (see Split).

Bed Posts

A way to refer to the 7-10 split. Essentially the two widest pins on each side standing, so it looks like bed posts, or goal posts in the UK.

Blind (Score)

Refers to someone’s score when they are absent from a session, only really used in league bowling.


Literally refers to the actual boards that make up the individual alley. One-inch wide pieces of wood that take up the width of the bowling lane. Numbered from right to left (inverted for lefties).


When someone is aiming for the pocket (see Pocket) and the ball rolls past the pin and ends up hitting the opposite side of ‘the pocket’. This happens fairly often but is called a ‘Jersey’ in the New York area or a ‘Windsor’ in the Metro Detroit area.


Another word for the rails or barriers that stop the ball going into the gutters, is mainly used for beginners and children.


describes a phenomenon or purposeful strategy where increased ball traffic in one lane, usually in a tournament, leads to more friction in a lane.

Carry (Pin Carry)

Describes when the pins are knocked down by the direct impact of the ball.


A way to describe the 8-10 split, refers to the twin towers in Cincinnati.

Clean Game

A game where all the frames are either a strike or a spare.

Dead Wood

Simply describes pins that have been missed by the pinsetter or pins that are in the gutter, which needs to be cleared from the lane.

Double Pinochle

Another way to refer to the 4-6 or 7-10 split.


Refers to a dry lane that hasn’t been recently oiled so has some friction.


Refers to a type of grip where only the first joint of the finger (the fingertip) is embedded in the ball’s orifice. A difficult grip used by advanced players.

Five bagger

Refers to five consecutive strikes.

Foul Line

The line that marks the start of the bowling lane, where you can’t let your foot go over without risking a foul.

Four Bagger

Refers to four consecutive strikes.

Golden Gate

Another way to describe the 4-6 or 7-10 split.


Reserved mainly for league play, refers to the amount of pins added to your score in order to level the field of play with less advanced players.

Head pin

The 1 pin, the closest pin to you.

House Ball

The balls provided by the alley, in contrast to your own balls you may have brought in league play.

Leadoff Man

The member of the team chosen to bowl first.


The way the ball releases from your hand, more specifically its trajectory.


Describes the incorrect way the ball hits the ground hard, rather than the correct soft way.


An alternative term for the gutter.


An open frame describes a frame where a strike or spare is not achieved.

Open Bowling

Simply describes no-competitive bowling, recreational bowling.

Bowling Terms Explained A-Z (1)

Perfect Game

This describes a 300 score, the max score a bowler can reach. A perfect game requires nine consecutive strikes plus three final pins in the last frame.


This describes the ideal spot to hit the headpin, the place where if hit will earn you a strike or at least a spare. Essentially just left or just right of the head pin, in between 1-3 or 1-3 depending on your hand.

Pin scatter

Describes how pins interact with each other and knock each other over having been directly hit by a ball.

Pin count

The number of pins that have been knocked over in one throw, used to differentiate from the score which is almost the same measurement.

Point up

A style of play where you shoot a straight shot from the start of the gutter to the pocket.

Quick Eight

A ‘pocket’ where you are likely to score a spare but not much, in between 4-7 or 6-10.


A term that describes how many times the ball revolves as it goes down the lane.


A person who throws games in handicap league bowling so that their handicap remains low. The practice is not condoned.


Describes six consecutive strikes.


Describes the formation of pins once they have been hit, or in other words describes the formation of pins you need to clear in order to get a spare. Different splits are harder to hit, such as the 7-10 split being the hardest.

Spot Bowling

An approach to bowling where to aim for a specific board or arrow or spot on the lane.

Strike Out

Finishing a game with all strikes, or to refer to three strikes in the tenth frame.


Perhaps the most recognizable bowling term, Turkey refers to three consecutive strikes in a game, this is a good goal for recreational players.

Final Thoughts 

There are many terms in bowling that often have very little to do with what they are describing. Much bowling lingo is usually based on geographical areas such as ‘Brooklyn’ and how that changes depending on where you are, as well as the descriptions of splits.

Descriptions of different splits are potentially where bowling lingo changes the most, and is often affected the most by geography.

Many bowlers describe the setup of the pins after the first throw based on geographical landmarks they recognize from their home state.

Similarly, there are many terms in the bowling world that are hard to place an origin on such as ‘Turkey’, there isn’t much explanation for it.

Drew Kaufner