Bowling Definitions and Terms

bowling terms

Bowling dictionary is mandatory if you’re not familiar with bowling’s lingo and terminologies. Bowling terms can clear out any confusion and paint the picture of this sport much better. When you understand every term used in bowling, not only you’ll sound professional but also you will be able to carry out a conversation with a fellow bowler. Isn’t that great? So if you are unaware of every word that players use regarding this sport, it’s high time you learn them and show everyone how smart you are!

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2 Bowling Terms

Bowling Definitions

First, you have to know Bowling Definitions. In a simple sentence, Bowling is a game in which the ball is rolled down in a narrow lane aiming to knock down the pins at the end of the lane.

Bowling Terms



You have heard/read this word in the description of a matte finish bowling ball. Well, it’s an abrasion technology that is used to give the coverstock of a bowling ball a sanded finish. Different coverstocks have different levels of grits, and for that, the friction between lane and coverstock varies.


The ball’s overall movement is caused by the spin. Balls that are relatively slow can deliver better action and are more effective than fast bowling balls with no significant action. The term action is also used to describe how pins hit each other during a knockdown.


It refers to the position (stance) of a bowler right before he/she starts to approach.


Bowlers often need to change their position, approach, delivery style, armswing, aiming, alignment, and equipment, especially bowling balls to get desirable ball motion. These sorts of changes are called adjustments.

Angle of Entry

Different from the delivery angle. The angle at which your bowling ball hits the first pin in the pocket is called angle of entry. It is measured with reference to a line that is parallel to the bowling lane’s boards. 


The part where a bowler takes fast steps to deliver the ball that leads up to the release. The Approach is also the area behind the foul line. Bowlers cannot cross the foul line to release the ball.


The way you need to move your arm right before releasing the ball. Your dominating arm follows a certain path and through the weight of the ball, it creates a pushaway that allows you to release the ball with momentum stored in it.


On the bowling lanes, you will notice that there are 7 arrowhead-shaped triangles. These arrows act as guides to help bowlers aim the shots.


The set of bowling balls that is available for bowlers to use during bowling games. An arsenal includes bowling balls with distinctive coverstocks and different core characteristics (symmetrical or asymmetrical). Having an arsenal lets you achieve perfect ball motion and reaction on different lane conditions.


The bowling average indicates a bowler’s overall performance. To calculate the average, one should the total of scores from multiple games and divide the total by the number of games. The rounded-down integer value is the average of your bowling.


Baby Split

This is a type of split that is easy to pick and can be converted by knocking down both pins with the shot. 2-7, 4-5, 3-10, etc. are some of the examples of the baby split.

Back End

The far end (approximately one-third) of the bowling lane where bowling balls mainly hook. Since that part of the lane lacks oil, the ball’s reaction to the backend is very important.


A significant portion of your ball delivery where the push-off takes place. Bowlers swing their arms back before they proceed to forward swing and release.

Bad Rack

If one or more than one wrongfully positioned pin(s) appears among a pin set at the pocket.


It is a string of strikes that happens in back-to-back frames within the same game. For example- a four-bagger is four strikes in a row, a six-bagger is six strikes in a row.

Balance hole

A balance aka a weight hole is drilled into a bowling ball, but it is not for finger insertion. This particular hole corrects the static imbalance. Although balance hole used to be very common previously, USBC has banned it on August 1, 2020. This is because it can hamper the ball’s intended dynamics and not do the things the ball was supposed to do.

Ball Reaction

How a ball reacts to the lane depends on the ball’s coverstock and its finish. The reaction defines the change in direction of ball motion caused by frictional contact with the lane surface. The term, ball reaction is also used to specify a ball’s hooking ability.

Ball Return

Did you see the piece of equipment that is placed in your bowling alleys that returns the ball after every shot? Yes, that process is called ball return.

Ball Speed

Generally expressed in MPH (miles per hour). The Ball Speed is the rate at which a ball moves down the lane toward the pocket. This is totally different from the Rev Rate (Revolution Rate) as it indicates a bowling ball’s rotational velocity. Rev Rate is expressed in RPM (revolutions per minute).

Ball Spinner

Ball Spinner is an automatic machine that spins your bowling ball to either polish or sand it down quickly.

Ball Track

A specific space on the lane where most bowlers throw their balls. It is also the area where your balls begin to roll down the lane

Big Four

The split where the 4, 6, 7, and 10 pins are remaining.

Blind Score

It is a scoring system that is used when a team member is missing or absent during league

plays- practice sessions or competitions. So instead of zero, the team receives a score, generally smaller than the absent player’s average. A Blind score is also called a dummy score or absentee score.


This is an aspect of bowling lane transition, but different from carry-down. The breakdown is caused by repeated ball travels on the same path for which the ball incrementally removes oil from that path and increases the friction of the bowling ball that later faces reduced length.

Break Point

This is where the bowling ball begins to hook before it goes into the pocket. The portion of the lane where it takes place is called the break point. Breakpoint measurement aka breakpoint management is critical yet very important in the modern bowling era. Early-hooking bowling balls can’t provide consistency. So it’s necessary to go for balls that hook right on time. Of course, you can change breakpoints by adjusting the target, alignment, ball, lane, or ball speed.


When your bowling ball crosses over the centerline to the other side of the headpin and hits the pins on the opposite side it was thrown. So if you’re a right-handed bowler and hits the 1-2 pocket, then it’s a Brooklyn.


The barriers placed around the lane that prevent bowling balls from going into the gutters. Lanes that are primarily for entry-level bowlers or for young children have bumpers.



The oil that we see on the lanes doesn’t get absorbed into the lanes. Rather it sits on top. As balls are thrown, the oil subtly moves around, left and right, and sometimes farther down the lane. The process of the oil getting picked up by the ball from the lane and deposited in the drier part of the lane is called carry down. When this happens, ball’s hooking gets messed up. Carrydown cannot be seen. Hence, bowlers need to anticipate carrydown during gameplay and make adjustments accordingly.


The formal term for the word ‘gutter’.

Cheesy Cakes

Also known as cake shot. This takes place when the bowling lanes are not critical, rather they are relatively easy to score strikes.

Chicken Sandwich

Although this isn’t too common to use among bowlers, when you score three back-to-back spares, preceded and followed by strikes- you can call it a chicken sandwich.


During a potential spare, if you knock down one pin and the pin behind it or next to remains standing, a chop happens.

Clean Game

Clean games are the ones where bowlers score either all strikes or all spares without any open frames.


Synonym for the oil that is used on the bowling lanes for lubrication.


A core (also called weight block) is a dense structure placed inside a bowling ball, has different shapes and sizes, is located and oriented to strategically customize a ball’s motion.


The count is the number of pins that players knock down in the next frame. Mainly applicable for spares or strikes.


The material that covers the core of the bowling ball is called coverstock. Coverstocks can have a different finish (shine/sanded), hardness, textures. Polyester, Urethane, Reactive- these are the coverstock types that we usually see in the market.


Crankers are the bowlers who roll their bowling balls with high revolutions. They follow this style by putting power over control, and most importantly, repeatability. They’re completely different from strokers.



The overall process of a shot in bowling that starts with the approach and ends with the ball release.

Delivery Angle

The angle at which a bowler releases the bowling ball. It is measured horizontally with reference to a line parallel to the boards. Wide delivery angles cover more portion of the board compared to small delivery angles.


The difference between the two RG values of the two axes of a bowling ball, also points out the ball’s flare potential.


If there is any inconsistency in a bowler’s footwork during his/her approach, we can call that a drift.

Dutch 200

A rare game where bowlers only score alternating strikes and spares and end up with a total score of 200.


Early Timing

If you release the bowling ball before you finish your foot sliding, your ball won’t hook much. This is called early timing and when it happens, you ball gets weaker and you won’t have enough balance to hit up on the bowling ball.


Finger Grips

These are inserts placed in the holes where you put your fingers. Finger grips ensure a better grip, followed by a better spin.


The progression of the oil track of your bowling ball. It showcases the migration of the ball’s overall axis of rotation on every successful revolution.


The whole pocket of 10 pins and hitting them all into the pit of the pocket.

Follow Through

The continued motion of the arm you bowl with. Right after the ball release, your bowling hand moves upward and towards the target. Not only this is physically safe but also great for better accuracy.


If you mistakenly cross or allow one of your feet to touch the foul line during ball delivery, it is considered a foul. No matter how many pins you knock down, you will get a zero for every foul.

Foul Line

The line that you shouldn’t cross because it separates the frontal lane surface and the approach area.


Each game of bowling is sectioned into 10 frames. In each frame, except the 10th frame, a player gets two chances to roll the ball and knock down the pins. The rule is different on the 10th frame and the bowlers only get one chance.



The deposition and purposive use of bowling ball’s holes. Grips are classified as 1. conventional grip and 2. fingertip grip. The term ‘grip’ is often used as a synonym for grip pressure.


Grit is a common word and you may have come across it while reading a ball description. Well, it’s a degree of roughness for the sanded or matte finish coverstock of a bowling ball. The frictional engagement with the bowling lane is controlled by the level of grit. Normally, the Grits of bowling balls range from 180 to 4000. The lower the grit, the rougher the ball’s surface, meaning, earlier hooking and higher friction. The higher the grit, the finer the ball’s surface, meaning, longer skid, and less friction.



This term was first coined by Rob Stone around the mid-2000s. Now it is commonly used when a player scores four strikes in a row within a game.


Handicapped bowlers usually cannot make a higher score. Therefore, an adjustment or a scratch score is added to their scores. This equalizes competitions, makes games even more competitive. You can easily calculate handicap score.

Head Pin

The #1 pin is called the head pin.

High Hit

When bowlers hit the head pin too much while going for a strike attempt.


Out of the three phases of a ball motion, the hook is the 2nd phase where the ball’s direction changes the most. Hooks take place right after the skid phase and before the roll phase. What causes the Hook is the bowling ball’s surface friction with the lane surface in its side rotation. Hook depends mainly on the dynamic internal structure of a ball (core size, shape, orientation, etc).


Synonym for bowling centers, bowling establishments or buildings, bowling facilities, etc.

House Ball

The non-custom bowling balls that bowling centers offer for you to play with. Most of the time they have polyester/plastic coverstock with a conventional grip. But they do offer those balls in various weight ranges.

House Shot

One of the very common terms. It is used to refer to the oil pattern you typically face at leagues. House shots usually have the majority of the oil placed in the mid lane and only a minimal amount of oil is placed on the outer part of the lane.



The side walls or the boards that separate one bowling lane from the ones next to it. This is where pins rebound very often or in other words, the pins kick back onto the bowling lane supporting the pin action.

King Pin

The center pin, or the #5 pin placed right in the middle.


Lawn Bowling

This is a game of bowling that can be played in your backyard, with balls and pins that can be purchased at local stores. While it is certainly a different experience than going to a bowling alley, it is a way to simulate the game while cooking burgers on the backyard grill.


In bowling lingo, the ‘layout’ is used many ways. One, it refers to the orientation of the weight block (core) based on your ball release. And the other one refers to the drilling layout of a bowling ball. It determines the ball’s motion. Sometimes layout is also used to describe the pins’ set up, i.e.- pin up layout, or pin down layout.


When two or more organized groups of bowlers’ teams compete against each other following all the professional rules on a fixed schedule. You can get your league certified by a national governing body of your state.


This is different from volume. What bowlers call length is the distance between the point where the ball hooks (breakpoint) and the foul line. The distance varies from lane to lane due to the oil pattern. You can get various lengths because of the ball’s surface and your delivery technique. Getting higher length is what you want. The more length you get the more it increases your chance to score strikes/spares.


The gap/distance between your ball’s release time and the lane-hitting time.



The middle part of the lane between the head/front lane and the back end.



9 Pin no tap bowling is type of bowling competition where if you knock down 9 pins on the first throw, it will be scored as 10, meaning a strike. You can also participate in 8 pin ‘no-tap’ competitions.


Open Frame

The frame where bowlers can’t score either a spare or strike.

Out of Bounds

The location from which your bowling ball gets to the pocket without its typical break. For instance, if you’re a right-handed bowler and deliver your ball from a bit too away from the right, it can be called the out of bound.


Commonly referred to describe a type of lane surface. If a lane has an overlay, then it means there is a film applied on the surface for preservation and protection. This is mainly done to maintain the traditional characteristics of the wooden surfaces.



A solid score of 200 for regular players (or their average). But for a professional bowler, it is a 200 game.

Perfect Game

Twelve strikes in a row that results in a 300 game. This is the highest possible bowling score.


One of the group of tall objects that are positioned at the end of the alley. The goal in bowling is to knock down all the bowling pins. Wood, urethane or a combination are what bowling pins are made of. They are manufactured to precise specifications for weight and physical dimensions.

Pin Deck

This is the area right at the end of the lane on which the bowling pins are set.


Machine that aligns and sets the pins after they are knocked down and returns the bowling ball.


It’s a hollow space where the knocked-down pins fall into. It is situated behind the pin deck.


The hole-drilling angle of a bowling ball.


A bowling ball’s desirable area for the best strike potential. For right-handed bowlers, it’s the area between the 1-3 pins, and for the left-handed players, it’s the 1-2 pins.

Power Stroker

Same as Tweener. A type of bowler who mixes a cranker bowler’s attention on power and a stroker bowler’s emphasis on control. So, power + control = power stroker.


Radius of Gyration (RG)

A bowling ball’s RG indicates how fast a bowling ball rotates/rolls once it leaves the bowler’s playing hand.


After a knock-down, when the pins are reset to a new full rack, you can call that re-rack.

Revolution (Revs)

This indicates how many times the bowling ball rolls over its circumference. Revs are counted as soon as it is released on the lane till it hits the pins. 



If a bowler purposefully scores a lower average so that he/she can receive a higher handicap.


Scratch score is the total score a bowler makes that is solid without any handicap score added to it.


The term skid is used to describe how your ball reacts as soon as it hits the lane.


A bowling pin standing right behind another pin. It moves there after the first ball roll. You cannot see a sleeper because of the pin located right in front of it. So make sure you check the scoreboard and aim properly before throwing your second ball.


The gap between the finger and thumb holes on a bowling ball.


A spare happens when you can knock down all the pins in two shots.


A distance between multiple pins 4-5, 5-6, 4-10, 6-7, 7-10, 4-6-7-10, etc are some of the examples.


A strike happens when you successfully knock down all of the 10 pins with the first throw.

String Pin Bowling

Refers to the type of pinsetters that use bowling pins on strings to reset the pins.

String Pinsetter

Pinsetter that uses bowling pins on strings to operate.



If you can score three strikes consecutively, you can call it a turkey.



Abbreviation of the United States Bowling Congress (estd 2005).


Vent Hole

This is a small extra hole that many players get drilled on their bowling balls to relieve and reduce the suction of the thumb hole.



The symbol for strikes, as per Roman numerals, X=10.


Hopefully, this in-depth clavis was helpful enough for you to understand the terminologies of bowling better. If you bowl regularly and want to impress your bowler friends with your newly learned knowledge, this glossary will definitely help you. Good luck!



I’m an aspiring bowler with an immense love for bowling. I started playing the game at a very early age and it’s been an integral part of my life ever since.

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