How to speak English

By Roger Long

Advanced Certified Instructor

Roger Long

There were a couple of interesting discussions on a popular billiards forum recently that dealt with English. Not the brand of English we speak every day, mind you, but the brand we smack a cue ball with every time we play pool.

In the first discussion, the question was asked, does the term English mean only side spin (hitting the cue ball left or right of vertical center), or is it proper to also apply the term to hits along the vertical axis, above and below the horizontal axis, such as you would do for follow and draw shots?

The replies that followed the original poster’s query left little doubt that players overwhelmingly believe English should mean side spin, only.  They noted that it was Englishmen who introduced the technique of using side spin to Americans in the early 1800’s, and the Americans quickly went to calling the phenomenon, putting “English” on the ball.

Billiard instructors who chimed in on the subject held that it is more difficult to explain to students what English is, and how it is supposed to be used, if the term includes shots with no side spin.  They maintained that terms like “top” and “bottom” work better for hits along the vertical axis.

Then, just as though it were needed, a second discussion ensued concerning the proper spelling of this beloved term. Someone pointed out that some instructional authors use an upper case “E” as in “English,” and others use the lower case “e” as in “english,” whenever they write anything on the subject.

To this, one author commented that he prefers the upper case spelling because his dictionary and spell checker neither recognized “english” as a word. (Funny, my spell checker keeps changing the e to upper case every time I write the word English.  There, see, it did it again!  I’m just going to leave it be this time.)

So then a second author came along who claimed that the lower case spelling is more appropriate regardless of what any dictionary or spell checker says. To bolster his argument, he gave several examples where lower case spellings have become the norm; the most popular of which is the term, french fries, instead of French fries. (Stupid spell checker of mine is doing it again!)

This then led to a friendly debate as to which spelling should actually be considered proper. To settle the matter, a poll of the forum’s general readership was taken, and at last count, the lower case spelling was winning by a four-to-one margin.

So there you have it. All side spin is english, but not all English is side spin.

As a side (pun intended) note: The English don’t call english, english.  They call it “side.”

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