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 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, the meaning of the actual 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.

This article will provide an A-Z glossary of all the bowling terms we have come across and some explanations. Keep reading to become fluent in bowling terminology.

Glossary Of Bowling Terms And Phrases


This is 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 categorized into its own terms.

Angle of Entry

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

Backup Ball

This refers to throwing a ball with a reverse spin.

Big Four/Big Ears

A specific bowling term that refers to 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 absent from a session; only used in league bowling.


It 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 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 from entering 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 direct impact of the ball knocks down the pins.


A way to describe the 8-10 split refers to the Twin Towers in Cincinnati.

Clean Game

It’s a game where all the frames are either a strike or a spare.

Dead Wood

Describes pins that have been missed by the pinsetter or pins that are in the gutter that need to be cleared from the lane.

Double Pinochle

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


It refers to a dry lane that hasn’t been recently oiled, so it has some friction.


Refers to a type of grip where only the finger’s first joint (the fingertip) is embedded in the ball’s orifice. It is a problematic 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, it refers to the amount of pins added to your score 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 balls, you may have brought in league play.

Leadoff Man

The member of the team chose to bowl first.


The way the ball releases from your hand, 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

Describes no-competitive bowling, recreational bowling.

Bowling Terms Explained A-Z (1)

Perfect Game

This describes a 300 score, the maximum 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, where it will earn you a strike or at least a spare if hit. Essentially, just left or just right of the headpin, 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 knocked over in one throw is used to differentiate from the score, which is almost the exact measurement.

Point up

It is 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, 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 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 one of the most recognizable bowling terms, Turkey, refers to three consecutive strikes in a game. This is a good goal for recreational players.

Final Thoughts 

Many bowling terms often have very little to do with what they are describing. Much bowling lingo is usually based on geographical areas such as ‘Brooklyn’; how that change depends on where you are and the descriptions of splits.

Descriptions of different splits are potentially where bowling lingo changes the most and is often affected 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, many bowling terms, such as’ Turkey, ‘ are hard to place an origin on. There isn’t much explanation for it.

Drew Kaufner