Under the table

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Under the table is an idiom that has been in use for decades. We will examine the meaning of the common saying under the table, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Under the table is an idiomatic phrase that is an adjective that describes something that is done in secret, something that is not entirely legal, something that is sneaky or shady. The expression under the table evokes the image of contraband being passed to someone underneath a table, where no one can see the transaction. The expression under the table to mean something sneaky or illegal came into use in the mid-twentieth century. The adjectival phrase is hyphenated when used before a noun, as in under-the-table.


“The thing about a blacklist is that it is usually an under-the-table gentleman’s agreement,” says Thomas Doherty, author of Show Trial: Hollywood, Huac, and the Birth of the Blacklist. (The Guardian)

Others were paid under the table or didn’t make enough money the year before seeking benefits to qualify for compensation. (Sioux Falls Argus Leader)

Now that the the 21-year-old West Philly resident has lost all but one of his jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s doubly painful: Because he was getting paid under the table, he’s not eligible for unemployment benefits. (Philadelphia Inquirer)