Is there a single word that means "under the table"? I am looking for a single word that conveys a knowing, sly, violation of law or ethics — like an under-the-table or off-the-books payment.

  • Do you mean a metaphorical sense of some surreptitious, less-than-savory event transpiring between parties? Or literally underneath the a piece of furniture?
    – Gilead
    Commented Apr 24, 2011 at 2:13
  • 1
    Do you mean apart underthetable?
    – apaderno
    Commented Apr 24, 2011 at 2:17
  • I am looking for a single word that conveys a knowing, sly, violation of law or ethics --- like an under-the-table or off-the-books payment.
    – user7742
    Commented Apr 24, 2011 at 2:38
  • Maybe you use the adjective black, like in black market. In German black-money is widely used for illegally earned money.
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 17:27
  • Footnotes - often found "under the table".
    – Jamie Bull
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 1:51

8 Answers 8


If you're looking for something that is not known about to others, then surreptitiously.


Three possible adjectives are illicit, illegal and underhanded.

  • underhanded is the one I'd use Commented Apr 24, 2011 at 9:24
  • @Matt Эллен - Wouldn't that depend on the precise context? In general, I would use underhand (not 'underhanded', which is a non-standard usage) where the emphasis is on the deviousness of an unethical act, illegal for something prohibited by law, and illicit where it is implied that there is something both illegal and of questionable morality.
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented Apr 19, 2014 at 6:28


Kept or done in secret, often in order to conceal an illicit or improper purpose.


covert - Not openly practiced, avowed, engaged in, accumulated, or shown. thefreedictionary


Sub rosa, sometimes spelled "sub-rosa", means "under the table". It is a borrowed word, from Latin, but used in English language newspapers and elsewhere. It may be used as an adverb or an adjective. Synonyms are covertly and "behind the scenes".

A more informal term for "under the table" is downlow or on the down-low.


In italian, for example, we have the one below (of course, the English version, which exists as well):

under the counter (or table) - (with reference to goods bought or sold) surreptitiously and typically illegally: certain labs have been peddling this drug under the counter. -|- [as adj.] an under-the-counter deal.

  • OT - Are you referring to "lavoro nero"? I seem to remember such a term.
    – gbutters
    Commented Apr 24, 2011 at 13:56
  • @gbutters: That expression is correct but the italian corresponding for "under the counter" is "sottobanco". (sotto = under / banco = desk) :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 24, 2011 at 14:21
  • In Italian the word "furbo" meaning crafty, is very often used to express anyone who wilfully and knowingly doesn't respect the law, especially those concerning the payment of taxes. Within the word, resides a sense of sneaky admiration, envy, and fierce outrage all rolled in one.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 18:54


Some companies may have significant amounts of off-balance sheet assets and liabilities. For example, financial institutions often offer asset management or brokerage services to their clients. The assets in question (often securities) usually belong to the individual clients directly or in trust, while the company may provide management, depository or other services to the client. The company itself has no direct claim to the assets, and usually has some basic fiduciary duties with respect to the client. Financial institutions may report off-balance sheet items in their accounting statements formally, and may also refer to "assets under management," a figure that may include on and off-balance sheet items.


Mitch's answer is pretty good but the wrong part of speech. You want surreptitious.

A less formal (and thus possibly more appropriate depending on your use) term would be shady.

  • This was months ago so I guess I no longer care, but what was the downvote for?
    – jhocking
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 17:16

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