Glossary: Marbles Edition

Marbles from the collection of Doug Watson. Top row from left: hand-cut agate, green slag, handmade German latticino, champion furnace swirl. Bottom row: German handmade flame-polished sulphide, aqua slag, hollow steelie, handmade flame-polished German onionskin. i i

Marbles from the collection of Doug Watson. Top row from left: hand-cut agate, green slag, handmade German latticino, champion furnace swirl. Bottom row: German handmade flame-polished sulphide, aqua slag, hollow steelie, handmade flame-polished German onionskin. Sarah Tilotta/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Sarah Tilotta/NPR
Marbles from the collection of Doug Watson. Top row from left: hand-cut agate, green slag, handmade German latticino, champion furnace swirl. Bottom row: German handmade flame-polished sulphide, aqua slag, hollow steelie, handmade flame-polished German onionskin.

Marbles from the collection of Doug Watson. Top row from left: hand-cut agate, green slag, handmade German latticino, champion furnace swirl. Bottom row: German handmade flame-polished sulphide, aqua slag, hollow steelie, handmade flame-polished German onionskin.

Sarah Tilotta/NPR

Part of our NPR Ed series on why people play and how play relates to learning.

The game of marbles might seem simple, but behind it is an extensive vocabulary.

"After you're in it for a little while, it kind of becomes second nature to you," says Doug Watson. He's what he calls a free-agent coach, and a marble collector who specializes in early American machine-made marbles and handmade German marbles.

The trade lingo for marbles players — mibsters, some call themselves — bears some similarities to other games and even other worlds entirely like cars, Watson explains.

"Dubs might mean something completely different [for] somebody else. It might mean rims on a car. But in marbles, that's when you take one shot and you knock two out on one shot," he explains.

Then there's lagging, a term you might be familiar with if you're a pool player.

Dominic Rudakevych, 13, demonstrates an impressive five-marble break at the marbles rings in Middletown, Md. In June, he earned the boys' champion title at the 91st annual National Marbles Championship in Wildwood, N.J.

Dominic shoots marbles.

"I know pool shooters will 'lag' to determine the first shot. Same thing in marbles," Watson said.

When NPR's Claudio Sanchez and Sami Yenigun traveled to Wildwood, N.J., for the National Marbles Tournament, they dove right into the game, and the vernacular that comes along with it.

So, if you're a wannabe mibster, or maybe even just someone with a passing interest, here's our shot at demystifying the language of marbles:

Aggies (n.) — A marble made out of agate or that appears to be made out of agate.

Dead duck (n.)An easy shot.

Fudging (v.) — When someone steps over the line of the ring.

Histing (v.)Lifting your knuckle from the ground while shooting.

Keepsies (adj.) — Playing for keeps. You get to keep any of your competitors' marbles that you knock out.

Knuckle down (v.) — To put your hand in a position to shoot your marble, keeping at least one knuckle on the ground at all times.

Lagging (v.) — The act of deciding who plays first.

Mibster (n.)Someone who plays marbles.

Onionskins (n.) — Glass marbles with swirls of layered colors that extend over the length of the marble.

Peeries (n.)Small, clear glass marbles.

Ringer (n.) — The game played in the national marbles tournament.

Shooter (n.) — A larger marble used to knock smaller marbles out of the ring.

Steelie (n.) — A steel marble, otherwise known as a ball bearing.

Thirteen-year-old Marilyn Fisher breaks with "trips," an opening shot that contacts three marbles at once. Marilyn is this year's girls' national champion. She and fellow champion Dominic Rudakevych both train with the local Middletown marbles club, the Frederick County Knucklers.

Marilyn shoots marbles.

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