Under the Table

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Meaning of Idiom 'Under the Table'

The idiom under the table means in secret and often illegally. 1,2


This idiom is usually used in regards to the exchange of money as in "being paid under the table." People are often paid under the table, in cash, either because they are doing something illegal, receiving a bribe, or they are an illegal immigrant, or both parties wish to hide the payments form the government in order to avoid paying taxes.

Examples Of Use

"He was in the country illegally so he was being paid under the table by the painting company."

"All the kitchen workers were paid under the table to avoid taxes."

"The lawyer had made many shady under the table deals."


Used since the mid-1900's.

This idiom alludes to money being passed under a table so that other people cannot see the money being exhanged. 2

1. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
2. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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