Month: April 2016

Wrest in Peace

It was quite a coincidence that the day after drafting the previous post on terminology I borrowed from our indoor club a copy of Bowl with Bryant, and discovered a term I’d never been aware of, even after more than 25 years of bowling.

The word, which I first of all took to be either a misprint or an archaism, was “wrest”.  But if it’s the legendary David Bryant using it, then it must be right, no?  Sure enough, when taken in context it was clear that to wrest a bowl out means to push it away from its original position, while ideally replacing it with your own.

So here, rather surprisingly, we have two almost identical words being used for two almost identical events.   (Bear with me: I’m just trying to make this clear to myself as well!)  On the one hand, we rest a bowl by coming up against it and sitting in front of it; on the other, we wrest (= push) a bowl out by hitting it slightly harder, maybe leaving our own bowl in that place but presumably not worrying if it goes further because the main job has been done.

Now, as a linguist, I’m delighted to discover this erudite distinction, but it does seem like a recipe for total confusion when trying to communicate instructions (“Did you say ‘rest it’, or ‘wrest it?”; or maybe, “Was that ‘wrest’ with a w?”).

For what it’s worth, I have to say that I’ve always interpreted the expression as meaning a gentle rest, with your own bowl finishing closer to the jack than the target bowl. If you want a bowl to be pushed through, then the word “push” seems preferable. Similarly, to indicate that a player should rest (on) a bowl, the use of a word like ‘sit’ makes things clear:  “You’re looking to come in and sit on this bowl here.”

I hope this doesn’t all sound too abstruse or complex.  As an average player, I’ve managed for all those years without being aware of the technical term, and this post should be seen as a footnote rather than a major piece of information.

By the way, I came across the technical definitions here in helpful glossaries built up by clubs such as Borehamwood and Lewes, whose sites can be found if you google “glossary of lawn bowls” or similar.  Only if you’re interested, of course…


Just Saying…

When you start playing bowls you pick up on a number of expressions which people use during a match.  Some of them are applicable in most sports – “Hard luck!” or “Good shot” being the most obvious – but there are others which are peculiar to bowls.  It’s worth running through these.  As with such earlier topics as things to do and not to do on the green, I’m noting these not as some kind of list to learn, but simply so that as you hear other people using the terms you can decide which ones you want to adopt yourself.  If you’re already an experienced bowler you might be able to add a few variations…

Instructions for Shots

The first type of expression refers to the advice someone might give to the person about to bowl.  It may be, for instance, “lose/keep a yard”: in other words, your previous bowl was a yard too heavy, so take that much off the next one.  This may, of course, be easier said than done, but at least it’s clear.

On the other hand, there may be a requirement to come into the head at more than drawing weight, and perhaps “a yard of running” will be the phrase.  This “yard on” shot is a little heavier, I think, than the one sometimes described as “just over the draw”, but even as I suggest this I am reminded of the way that French dictionaries of synonyms try to pin down words with total accuracy – my favourite was always the definition of love as being something more than infatuation but rather less than passion.  Yes, well, in theory it’s brilliant.

With regard to our bowls shot, the “yard on” shot is quite tricky, because it almost certainly implies that you are aiming to take out another bowl by direct contact. The temptation and danger here (I’ve fallen for it far too often myself) is to play the shot too heavy and waste it, either by sending it several yards past, or by doing other damage to the head. The key here is what is often called controlled weight.  You’ll also hear players telling the bowler to “be positive”: this is also an expression for coming in with a bit of weight – not wild, but certainly heavier than the draw shot, with no risk of leaving the bowl short.

Another shot which finishes past the jack is one that “covers” one or more opposition bowls.  Look at these photos:

20151222_153014 (1)                                                 20151222_153034


The first photo shows the position where both Blue and Brown have one bowl left, in that order. Blue is lying shot, in front of the jack, but it is clear that if Brown were to come in from the bottom of the picture (running right to left) and push the jack through it could result in three or four shots to Brown.  The second photo shows the ideal position for Blue’s last bowl, tucked in somewhere in front of the brown bowls – it can’t guarantee retaining the shot, but it will hugely reduce the risk of losing shots.  This is what is meant by covering the back bowls.

Either as part of this tactic or in more general terms you may be asked to “rest” a bowl – that is, come up to it and stop on it without needing to hit it too far.  Think of it as being a dead draw but to a bowl, not the jack.   (Terminology here can be quite intriguing, and I’ve added a separate note in another post – but only if you’re interested!… ) 

The Jack

The jack itself will sometimes be referred to as the white (even if it is yellow!) or as the kitty.  When a bowl finishes level with the jack it is called “jack high”.  A couple of years ago the law-makers ruled in their wisdom that that expression should indicate being past the jack, and that levelness was to be indicated by a new term, “jack level”.  Well, that may sound logical, but whenever was life (or language) logical?  Everyone has continued to say “jack high” and I suspect/hope they always will.

Another expression here is to “spring” the jack.  This happens when there is a bowl lying in front of the jack, or just to one side, but in contact with it.  If another bowl now hits that shot bowl the jack (thanks to laws of physics I don’t pretend to understand) goes a remarkable distance, especially on indoor surfaces.  So if that shot bowl is one of your own, you usually don’t want to hit it; and even if it’s an opposition bowl you may still need to be careful, depending on where all the others are.

One more term to learn with regard to the jack is the “trail”.  To trail the jack is to play a little over the dead draw weight to hit the jack and run through with it, usually because there are some back bowls waiting.  Of course, this is a very skilful shot, which I suppose is why no one tells a player to trail the jack, but rather says something encouraging like “A wee trail would be good”, or “If you could trail the jack it’d be worth three or four [shots]”.

Regional Terms

If such a shot – or indeed, any shot – doesn’t come off there are some regular shouts of encouragement.  “Hard luck/lines” is obviously one of them, but I always think this should be more sparingly used, since to be regularly told about bad luck might have a depressive effect.  Or is that just me?  I prefer the positive sound of “What an effort!” or “Well played -you’ll get it next time”.  Again, listen out for what you think works, or doesn’t, so that you can use the expressions comfortably yourself, in due course.  Here in Northumberland a lot of people use the exclamation “Hard to bear!”, which I’d not heard before coming here (and which neatly avoids the reference to luck).

Speaking of regional variations, there’s an expression in Scotland – “peels” – to indicate that the scores are level.  As in “Peels!”, when changing the scoreboard to 11-11, or “It was peels going into the last end”.  I never did find out where it came from, as no person or book gave me an answer, but I think I read that it derived in some way from curling, which makes sense.  Anyway, try it in England and people will look rather oddly at you.

Another broad difference I had to learn when coming south was the difference between “Shot in!” (Scotland) and “Last wood” (North of England).  That is, the two expressions mean the same thing, namely that the previous wood, the last one bowled, is now lying shot.

Earlier on I referred to the way that a bowl comes in to rest on another.    Another expression for a bowl which comes in to remove another and sit in its place is a “tap and lie”, but in Scotland it’s known as a “chap and lie”, since the word chap means to knock or hit.

This was not intended as an exhaustive list of expressions, but simply as a guide to the sorts of things you will hear on the green.  There are certainly others – and I’d love to hear them – and of course all sorts of individuals have their quirky expressions.  But on the basis of the above guide I reckon you shouldn’t need to be asking too much for anyone to explain what they mean or expect.