Whether you’re a bowling newbie or an expert that hits up the alley multiple times a week, it’s pretty hard to digest and remember the sheer number of bowling terms out there. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled an alphabetical listing of every bowling term you should know for your next night out at the lanes.


The American Bowling Congress, or ABC, was the original primary governing body of the game of bowling in the United States. It operated from 1895-2004 and was officially replaced by the United States Bowling Congress in early 2015.


  • Ball action is the combination of the spin placed on a bowling ball and the pin violence it creates. A relatively slow ball can still do plenty of damage with good action compared to a very fast ball with limited action.
  • Pin action is when pins knocked over fly all over the place and mix around in a violent fashion.
  • Action on a bowling game is when a game is played for cash, usually in one-on-one competition.


A bowling stance before the shot approach.


Adjusting some aspects of your bowling game in response to current bowling lane conditions. Right-handed bowlers might make an adjustment based on oil density in one lane, while left-handed bowlers might not. It all depends on a player’s shot and how they can efficaciously get the ball to the pocket.


  • The space between the seating area and the foul line that is used to step forward and deliver the ball.
  • The act of approaching the lane for a shot.


The number of boards a player can cover with a shot before slotting a ball back into the pocket. If the ball hits the pocket after 5-8 boards of area, it’s considered an optimal shot for most hooks.


Your arm’s full swing from pushaway to ball release.


The arrows printed down the lane to help you aim your throw.


The point on a bowling ball where a bowler’s release causes an initial axis of rotation.

Axis Tilt

Measured up to 90 degrees, axis tilt is dictated by the direction that your axis faces when releasing your throw. Low axis tilts promote roll. High axis tilts promote skid and flip.

Baby Split

Either a 3-10 or 2-7 split. These are easier to pick up than most other splits.

Back Ends

The back ends of a lane refer to the area closest to the pins where most hooks occur. The condition of the back ends dictates the force and angle used when a ball enters the pins.

Backup Ball

A ball that curves right to left when thrown by a left-handed bowler (or left to right for a right-handed bowler.)

Bad Rack

When a set of pins is placed with one or more pins out of position.


A bagger refers to a string of strikes in a row. For example, six consecutive strikes are known as a six-bagger. Four consecutive strikes is known as a four-bagger.

Baker Game

When five bowlers work together to bowl a single game, alternating turns so each bowler throws two frames.


  • The way weights are distributed in a non-resin ball, influencing either its turn either towards or away from the pins.
  • When a bowler’s sliding foot completes its motion in harmony with the ball release.

Balance Hole

A non-gripping hole drilled into a bowling ball to alter its reaction or to make a ball compliant to USBC regulations.

Ball Rack

The area of a bowling alley where house balls are stored for use.

Ball Return

The machinery used to return a ball to a bowler after a shot.

Ball Spinner

A maintenance device/container that spins a ball to either sand it down or apply polish to it.

Ball Track

The most used part of a lane. A ball track is where most balls make contact with the lane headed towards the pins.


The very center, or nose, of the head pin.

Bed Posts

The 7-10 split — the hardest split to convert in a game of bowling.

Belly the Ball

When a bowler stands inside and throws a ball towards the outside, hoping to boomerang it back into the pocket.

Big Four

A 4-6-7-10 split.

Blind Score

If a league bowler is unable to attend an event, a blind score refers to that player’s average used to calculate a team’s overall scoring total for the night.


When a bowler fails to convert any spare that is not a split.

Bowl Out

When you allow a time-pressed bowler to finish their game ahead of any other players’ turns. This is a courtesy extended to those who have other commitments and have to leave the lanes.


A bowling lane has 39 boards on which a ball rolls towards the pins. Bowlers number these boards for the sake of reference and aiming one’s shot.

Body English

Using body movements to influence a ball’s path down the lane.


A big, looping hook out of a bowler’s hand.


The point in a bowling lane where a ball starts its hook back towards the pocket. If you’re catching too much head pin on your shots, you can alter your breakpoint with subtle adjustments to your shot and approach.


Hitting the 1-2 pocket for a right-handed bowler or the 1-3 pocket for a left-handed bowler.


A cluster of four pins in a diamond shape.


When oil is (invisibly) pushed down a bowling lane, affecting hook efficacy as a lane breaks down with repeated play.

Center of Gravity

The heaviest portion of a bowling ball.


Also known as a gutter, a channel refers to one of the grooves to the side of the bowling lane.


Knocking one pin down on a spare shot while leaving another next to it or behind it standing.

Clean Game

Throwing a game with zero open frames.

Closed Pocket

When a full rack of pins is set, but the head pin is slightly off its spot towards your ball hand.


Another term for the lane oil used to protect and lubricate a bowling lane.

Conventional Grip

A conventional drilling setup with finger holes drilled down to the second joint. Some players use finger grips inserts with conventional grip bowling balls to alter things.


The number of pins scored in a frame applied to the score of a previous spare or strike.


The material used to create the outer shell of a bowling ball. Most professional-grade bowling ball coverstocks are made of reactive resin nowadays.


A bowling game score of 200 or more.


  • Seven spots placed on the lane after the foul line and before the arrows used to help guide a bowler’s shot.
  • Runway markers that help calibrate a bowler’s approach.

Double Wood

Two pins left with one directly in front of the other.

Down and In

The opposite of bellying the ball. When you take a shot line parallel to the boards.


Applying oil to a bowling lane.


The number of boards that you drift between the start of your approach and the foul line. How far you veer from a straight-line path.

Dutch 200

Alternating strikes and spares in every frame for an even 200 game.

Early Timing

When a thrown ball begins its flight before the sliding foot has completed its motion.

Entry Angle

The angle at which a ball enters the pin pocket. The more entry angle your shot has, the better chance of a strike.

Fall Back Shot

When shot begins its roll to the opposite side of the pocket and then finds its way back to the pocket.

Fast Eight

When you seem to catch the pocket just right, but the ball leaves two standing pins in its wake.

Fifth Arrow

The 25th board from the far right of the lane for a right-handed player. It’s a key board for righties who struggle with out-of-bounds throws.

Fill Ball

The final shot after a spare in the 10th frame.

Finger Grips

Inserts placed into bowling ball finger holes to help with grip and spin. Bowling grips inserts change the friction and depth of bowling ball holes.

Finger Weight

Drilling a bowling ball so that the finger holes are placed closer to the label than to the thumb hole. This is a way to ensure positive weight.


Gripping the ball down to just the first joints of the fingers, increasing spin.

First Arrow

The farthest arrow to the right for a right-handed player, placed on the 5th board.


How far a ball stray from a bowler’s initial axis to its final axis.


When a ball has low revs and turns an apparent good pocket hit into a bad split. The ball reaction is pretty dead and causes a light pocket hit where pins deflect.

Flat Gutter

The flattened area of the gutters near the pins.


Hitting the pocket just right.


Your arm’s motion after a ball leaves your hand on a release.


Either touching or crossing the foul line when delivering a shot.

Foul Line

The solid line that separates the approach area from the playing surface of the lane.

Foundation Frame

The ninth frame.


Each bowling game is divvied up into ten frames. A bowler has two opportunities to knock down all ten pins in the first nine frames. In the tenth frame, a bowler can have up to three shots.

Greek Church

A split leave with five pins left standing — three pins left to one side and two pins left to the other.


Also known as a channel, a gutter is the indented channel on the side of the lane.

Gutter Ball

When a shot rolls into the gutter and past the pin deck, missing everything and collecting zero pins.

Half Ten

When a ten pin is left by a pocket shot and the 6-pin lies in front of it weakly.


Four consecutive strikes, also known as a four-bagger.


Adding to a player’s score to provide equal competition between two bowlers of different skill sets.


When the ball travels across the foul line, the first 20 feet of the lane is usually considered the heads. This area is usually made of reinforced material to absorb initial ball impact.

Head Pin

The lead pin, or 1 pin.


A first thrown ball that hits the pins dead center or close to it, usually leading to a split.

High Hit

Hitting too much head pin on your first shot.


The bowling alley you’re playing at.

Jersey Side

Also known as a Brooklyn. Hitting the pins on the Jersey side means you’re hitting the opposite of your normal pocket.


The boards to the left and right of the pins used to divide lanes. Pins frequently rebound off the kickbacks, aiding in overall pin action and carry.

King Pin

The 5 pin. It’s called the king pin because its fall usually trigger all other pins to fall.


A team competition organized by competitors at a single bowling alley or series of alleys.


Any pins left standing after the first shot of a frame.

Light Hit

When a ball taps the side of pin, sending it off to the side.


Also referred to as a sour apple. A 5-7-10 split.


The time a bowling ball takes to land on the lane after its release.

Long Oil

When oil is applied to a lane farther than normal from the foul line towards the pin deck. Anything over 40 feet is usually considered long.

Mass Bias

When a large chunk of a bowling ball’s weight block or the entire block is calibrated more to one direction than the other.

Match Play

A one-on-one bowling competition.


When a stray pin slides across the pin deck and either breaks up a split or facilitates a strike.


The amount of pins a bowler is behind when attempting to post a 200 average in competition.

Negative Weight

Any weight in a ball that mutes overall hook or causes it to go into a roll earlier than expected.


Any bowling competition where nine pins (or sometimes eight pins) on a first shot is considered a strike.

Nose Hit

When you hit the head pin directly, missing the pocket.

Open Frame

Any bowling frame that doesn’t end in either a spare or a strike.

Open Bowling

All bowling games that are played for leisure instead of organized competition.

Out of Bounds

The part of the boards where a bowler’s hook can’t slot back into the pocket.


Pins scored over a 200 in a game or on average in a series by a professional or competitive bowler.

Positive Axis Point (PAP)

The point of any bowling ball that’s equidistant from every point of the release track.


A 200 game.

Perfect Game

A 300 game.

Picket Fence

Either a 1-3-6-10 or 1-2-4-7 spare.

Pin Deck

The area on a lane where the pins are set.

Pin Placement

A bowling ball drilling term that allows a bowler to alter their ball dynamics to fit their game.


The place where the pins are gathered for replacement behind the pin deck.


The angle that holes are drilled at on a bowling ball.


The amount of pins a bowler is ahead when attempting to post a 200 average in competition.


For a right-handed bowler, the pocket is the space between the 1 and 3 pins. For a left-handed bowler, the pocket is between the 1 and 2 pins. It is considered the sweet spot to hit for a strike ball.

Positive Weight

Any weight in a ball that increase overall hook or causes it to go into a roll later down the lane.

Punch Out

Finishing any game with consecutive strikes, no matter how many.


At the beginning of a bowling swing, pushing the ball forward before bringing it back for the second part of the swing.

Radius of Gyration (RG)

A numerical measurement of the speed of a bowling ball’s rotation when it leaves a bowler’s hand.

Range Finders

Any markers on a lane used to help a bowler find their target.


Resetting the pins when you feel the original set was poorly placed.


The count of the number of times a ball rolls over its full circumference from release to pin impact. The more revs a ball has, the more pin action it is likely to create.

Roll Out

A ball rolled that loses its hook and side rotation in the middle of a shot and veers straight ahead.


When a player purposefully throws a bad average in order to receive a handicap in competitive play.


Any bowling score in competitive play minus any handicap adjustments.

Six Pack

Six consecutive strikes. Also known as a six-bagger.


The motion a ball takes when it first hits the lane, leading into a hook.


Any pin that is hard to see on a spare shot, hidden by another pin.

Sour Apple

A 5-7-10 split or a weak hit that leads to some combination of those three pins left standing.


The distance between thumb holes and finger holes on bowling balls.


Clearing out any remaining pins on the second shot of a frame. A spare leads to a one-shot scoring bonus, adding the number of pins knocked down from the next shot to the frame total.


Any leave that has a pronounced space between at least two standing pins.

Spot Bowling

Using the arrows or dots on a lane as targets rather than looking at the pins themselves.


When you knock down all the pins on your first ball. All ten pins must be scored as down for a strike to count. A strike (except in the tenth frame) leads to a two-shot scoring bonus, adding the pin total from the next two shots to the frame total.


When a ball thrown looks to lead to a perfect pocket hit, yet one pin is left up.


Three consecutive strikes.

300 Game

A perfect game of twelve consecutive strikes.


Founded in 2005, the USBC absorbed several major bowling organizations to become the key ten-pin bowling organization in the United States.


A placeholder score used in league play when one team has fewer players than another. This score is usually handicapped and dictated by the league organizer.

Vent Hole

An added hole on a bowling ball that decreases suction for the thumb hole.


Any split where the head pin is left in place.

Weight Block

An added weight in a bowling ball to both increase its weight and dictate ball dynamics.