under-the-counter

Anything under-the-counter happens secretly — it's hush hush. All illegal drug deals are under-the-counter.

An over-the-counter drug can be purchased without a doctor's prescription. The same is true of under-the-counter drugs, but look out: anything that happens under-the-counter is secret and possibly illegal, much like under-the-table payments. It can help you remember the meaning of this phrase if you remember that over-the-counter activities can be seen, while under-the-counter activities can't. Buying a bootleg DVD on the street is another under-the-counter transaction, whereas buying a DVD in a local store is an over-the-counter transaction.

Definitions of under-the-counter
  1. adjective
    done or sold illicitly and secretly;
    Synonyms:
    illegal
    prohibited by law or by official or accepted rules
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