Crowded bowling alley, bowlers speaking lingo

Bowling Lingo:  The Common Phrases, Jargon, Slang, and Terms Used in Bowling

If you’ve been to the local bowling alley, you’ve probably noticed that the terms used in bowling might not be making much sense to you.  The “bowling lingo” might be going over your head until you get a little more in-tune with the sport and spending time at the lanes.  Don’t be intimidated.  We all started somewhere!  To shorten your education on such jargon, we’ve assembled a list of common bowling slang.  

There are 3 lists below, one for generic bowling terms, one for common strike names, and one for common bowling spare names.  Each is listed in alphabetical order so it’s easier for you to find what you’re looking for.

Neon Bowling Sign

Bowling Terms

These are all generic bowling terms that you might hear while at the bowling alley or within a conversation about bowling.


1. Spin on the ball 2. betting or wagering on bowling.


Approach has two meanings in bowling: 1. the area right behind the foul line 2. stepping towards the lane before you release the ball.

Angle of Entry

Angle at which the ball takes as it hooks into the pins.

Bad Rack

When the set of pins is not correct.  It could be missing pins or have one or more that are not positioned correctly.

Ball Return

The equipment/machine that the ball sits on after returned back to the player’s area.

Ball Track

Area of the lane where most balls are thrown.  The ball track might even show wear from all the balls and their movement through this area.

Blind/Blind Score

Using a team member’s average when they’re not present in league play.  This often incurs a ten pin penalty.


Boards are the 39 strips of wood numbered across the lane for targeting purposes.  


The type of bowler that throws a hooking ball.  Just learning to throw hooks?  See our post on the best bowling balls for hook beginners.

Break Point

The area of the lane where the bowling ball begins to hook back towards the pocket.


When the ball crosses to the wrong side of the head pin (left side for a right-handed bowler or right side for a left-handed bowler).


To knock down just one pin of a spare opportunity and leave the other pin standing.

Clean Game

A game with no open frames (a strike or spare in every frame of the game).


The material that makes up the outer shell of a bowling ball.


Knocked over pins that were not cleared away as they should have been.


Bowling lanes that have very little oil applied to them are considered dry and will likely cause the balls to hook more than normal.

Foul Line

If a bowlers foot crosses this line, it’s a foul and not pins are scored.  This is also where the lane starts.


Handicaps are used in league play to adjust player’s in an attempt to equalize competition across players of different skill levels.

Head Pin

The head pin is the #1 pin and also the pin in the front/center of the set.


This is the bowling alley or any building that provides the bowling activities.

House Ball

A ball that you would borrow from the bowling alley versus one that you could purchase and bring to the “house” yourself.


Bowling leagues are organized events for teams to bowl and compete.  They are typically held once a week.


When a bowler releases the ball too late and throws the ball too far away from them rather than rolling it.  This might result in the ball hitting the lane very hard.  This might also be referring the the distance the ball traveled before it hits the lane.

Open Frame

A frame that does not result in either a strike or a spare.

Open Bowl

A time when anyone can bowl for the fun of it and there are no leagues or tournaments taking place.

Perfect Game

A game that results in 300 points.  It can only be accomplished by getting 12 consecutive strikes and not leaving any pins standing throughout the entirety of the game.

Pin Deck

Area of where the pins are set


Area directly behind the pin deck, at the end of the bowling lane.


Area between the head pin and the 3 pin just to its right (for a right-handed bowler).  Hitting the pocket is a good attempt at getting a strike.


Resetting of the pin deck due to a perceived “bad rack”.


Intentionally playing poorly to keep average score low in an effort to get a higher handicap.


Get all of the still standing pins on the second ball of any given frame.


Two or more pins are still standing after the first ball in a frame and have a gap between them.  


Knocking down all 10 pins with the first ball in a frame.

Spot Bowling

Aiming at a specific spot or indicator on the lane rather than throwing for the pins.

Strike Out

Getting a strike on all remaining opportunities in a game.  Also could mean getting 3 strikes in the tenth frame.

Bowling "Strike" Neon Sign

Bowling Strike Names

These are the names used when you a certain number of strikes in a row!


1 strike


2 strikes in a row


3 strikes in a row


4 strikes in a row


5 strikes in a row

Six Pack

6 strikes in a row

Seven-Bagger to 11-Bagger

7 to 11 strikes in a row

Perfect Game

12 strikes in a row

7-10 Split

Bowling Split Names

There are many combinations of spares.  Some are more common than others.  Most have nicknames and here they are!

Baby Split

Easy to pick up split, 2-7 or 3-10 pins.

Big Four or Golden Gate or Big Ears

Split with the 4-6-7-10 pins still standing.


Diamond shape split, 2-4-5-8 is an example. 


8-10 split

Goal Posts or Bed Posts

7-10 split, leaving the pins in the two corners, making it the hardest split to pick up.

Lily or Sour Apple

5-7-10 split.

Picket Fence

1-2-4-7 or 1-3-6-10 split.

The Ultimate Bowling Guide

Final Words on Bowling Lingo

Hopefully you’ll feel more comfortable at the bowling alley now that you know the lingo and can speak the language bowlers speak.  You’ll never have to ask someone again what the pocket is or why you have a handicap…and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to throw a turkey!

Bowling Lingo Guide

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