Photo of pins splashing bowling lingo

Ever walk past a couple of bowlers chatting it up? Hear some wicked bowling lingo you didn’t even know existed?  For a game that’s relatively simple, you might be surprised at some of the terminology.  Here, I’ll paint the picture.

Rick:  How you been shootin’, Joe?

Joe: My first game I shot 5 over but I kept leaving 10 pins and baby splits.

Rick: Those splits are nothing, at least you shot a deuce!  I almost had a 6 pack but then I left a Greek Church and chopped it.


To the untrained ear, you might think someone swung an axe at a Greek Church.  But to the experienced bowler, it’s just a way of explaining the pins left behind after the first ball was thrown. Lots of these terms sound silly, but they have very specific meanings.


For example, from the sample conversation:

Greek Church – 1. A split leave of five pins similar to the 4-6-7-9-10 so called because it reminds people of an old cathedral type church with spires, etc.
2.  Any split on which there are three pins on one side of the lane and two on the other.

Six Pack – 6 strikes in a row

Deuce – A game of 200 or more

Baby Split – Either the 2-7 or 3-10 Split.  Much easier to pick up compared to a regular split.

Leave – The pins remaining after the first ball was rolled

Chop – To knock down one pin of a spare leave, while the pin next to or behind it remains standing.



That’s just the tip of the iceberg though, there are lots of terms for everything from the formation of pins left behind to the fundamentals of bowling.  Here are some basic bowling terms.

Address – The bowler’s stance before the approach

Approach – 1. The space extending back from the foul line used to make the steps and delivery.
2. How the bowler gets to the foul line

Arrows – The triangles embedded on the lane used in aiming the throw.

Board – A lane consists of 39 strips of wood, each called boards; they are usually numbered by the player and used as targeting terms; i.e., I was throwing the 5th board; in synthetic lanes there are no boards as such, but usually the synthetic overlay has a pattern that resembles natural wood lanes.

Foul Line – 1. The line that separates the approach area from the beginning of the playing surface.

Foul – Crossing or touching the foul line at delivery. It’s penalized by a count of zero pins. If the foul occurs on the first ball of a frame, the bowler gets a second shot at a new rack.

Pocket – The desirable location for the ball to hit the pins to maximize strike potential. Generally the area between the 1-3 pins (right-hand player) or the 1-2 pins (left-hand player). This is the target for the first ball in a frame.

Pushaway – The pushing out (forward) of the ball to begin the swing (coincides with first step of four-step approach.)



Now, of course, from the other end of the lingo spectrum, here are some of the more obscure terms:

Beak – The nose; the center of the head pin.

Bed Posts – 7-10 split

Belly the Ball – Describes the type of shot where a player stands inside and tosses it to the outside in the hopes it returns to the pocket for a strike.

Boomer – A big hooking ball; a person that throws a big hooking ball.

Dressing – The lane conditioner; the act of applying lane conditioner.

Dutch 200 – A game of exactly 200 made by alternating strikes and spares throughout the entire game.

Fast Eight – Describes an apparent good pocket hit that gets just eight (8) pins; typically the right-handed players will leave the 4-7 spare and the left-handed players the 6-10; usually

the ball is a tad high when this happens.

Full Roller – A ball that rolls over its full circumference. The track of the ball cuts between the thumb and finger holes. Although once very popular, it is now rarely used because it lacks the carrying power of a semi-rolled ball due to the fact that it generally cannot create the increased entry angles that are helpful to carrying your strikes, particularly the off-hits.

Half Ten – The description of a 10-pin that was left by a ball in the pocket and the 6-pin laying down in front of the 10-pin in a half hearted manner; same as “weak 10”.

Jersey/Brooklyn Side(or hit) – A ball that hits on the opposite side of the player’s normal pocket; i.e, a Jersey for a right handed player would hit on the 1-2 pocket; usually refers to getting a strike in the “wrong” pocket. Called a “Brooklyn” in most locations of the country.

Kegler – German word for bowler.

Lily – The 5-7-10 split; also known as the “sour apple”.

Loft – The distance the ball travels between the time of release and the time it hits the lane.

Long Oil – Condition in which the lane conditioner is applied from the foul line farther than normal. There is no magic standard, but 35-40 feet or more of application was considered long oil. It can be a more difficult condition in that there will be less back end to generate pocket entry angle. Long Oil in today’s environment would be considered anything longer than 40 feet of oil. 35 is now considered short oil.

Mass Bias – Mass bias in a bowling ball occurs when the weight block or portion of weight block is more dominant in one direction inside of a bowling ball.

Messenger – The name given to the pin that rolls across the pindeck into a pin or pins to either get a strike or break up a split.

Picket Fence – The 1-2-4-7 or 1-3-6-10 spares.

Range Finders – Markers in the lane that help the bowler determine the target line. There are two sets of such markers: 10 dots located seven feet past the foul line and seven arrows arranged in a triangle beginning 16 feet beyond the foul line. There are also range finders at 35 and 40 feet down the lane per USBC rules.

Turkey – 3 strikes in a row.

Washout – A “split” with the head pin standing; symbolized as “W”; not making the spare is considered a blow or error, not a split. For example, the 1-2-4-10 or 1-2-10 for right-handed bowlers, or the 1-3-6-7 or 1-3-7 for left-handers is considered a “washout.”


Congratulations, you now have the vocabulary of a bowling veteran.  Have fun with your new lingo, whether your chopping sour apples or shooting turkeys