What Does English Mean in Billiards?

The Bane of Many Players' Existence

billiards english, pool definition, sidespin


When a cue ball is struck on either side of its vertical axis, giving it “sidespin," that's called "English" in billiards. It may also occur when a ball collides with another or with a rail. The term comes from the British players who first became famous with sidespin techniques. The Americans could say, "Look at all the British they're adding, which became "English" or now, "english" with a lower case "e."

Use A Bit Of American Then, Eh?

What do the British call what American players call “english”? The old joke is that they call it "American" but they call english, why, “side”, of course.

Topspin or draw spin (when the cue ball is struck high or low of center upon its vertical axis) also affects a ball, though many players mistakenly call these spins “english”. English is hitting the ball to promote sidespin.

Both expressions may be combined to explain the point of the cue ball aimed at for a shot. A player asked “What sort of english did you use?” might respond, “High left english” or “A bit of bottom right english”, etc. to explain that both top or bottom spin and sidespin was applied.

English Is a Bad Dude

There are good reasons why many pool teachers warn their students to take it easy on the billiards english and stick to center ball or nearly so:

1. Players don't understand how to get english effectively. The average player hits way off center rather than using a pro technique to generate extra english safely. Stroke the ball softer, for one important example, and you'll get more english, since the forward momentum of the ball goes against the sidespin on shots struck too hard. Shooting hard causes the cue ball to squirt far off line, too.

2. There are many, many ways to play position with no english. A good player knows how to get cue ball shape on the next shot using stroke speed, topspin or draw, punching the cue ball with the stroke, gripping the stick harder or softer, using the cloth's natural tendencies to control the cue ball, besides cutting an easy ball a bit thinner or more thick to get cue ball shape, kicking off a rail and more. For most shots, one can get the cue ball to most anywhere on the table without english or at least with only tiny dashes of english, a quarter-tip here and there.

3. English can cause a ball to do funny things. A cue ball will tend to curve away from the shot line with english, toward the left with left-hand english and vice versa. However, it will also tend to squirt opposite the english as the cue "rebounds" from english impact—left on a right english shot and vice versa! The two opposing forces can make timing and aiming english shots a challenge. That is, unless you meet with me for a lesson. :)

"Oh, why can't the English learn to english?"

Also Known As: Side, Sidespin

Examples: "Avoid english where possible and use center ball or close to it, junior" stated the grumpy old pro.