or down·low

[ doun-loh ]
/ ˈdaʊnˈloʊ /
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of or pertaining to men who secretly or discreetly have sex with other men: She once dated a down-low guy.
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Idioms about down-low

    on the down low,
    1. (of a man) secretly or discreetly engaging in sex with other men.
    2. secret; discreet: Okay I'll tell you, but keep it on the down-low.

Origin of down-low

First recorded in 1990-95; down1 + low1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What else does down-low mean?

Content warning: the following content includes references to sexual activity.

Something on the down-low is secret or private.

Down-low can also specifically refer to Black men who secretly have sex.

Where does down-low come from?

On the down-low, or on the DL, refers to information that’s kept quiet or under wraps. It emerges in Black slang by the 1990s. Both down and low underscore the slang’s sense of “quiet” and “hushed.”

Since at least the early 2000s, down-low refers to men who secretly have sex (on the down low) with other men. It’s historically used of urban Black men who otherwise present as heterosexual, often married and with children, in a culture where homosexuality has been stigmatized.

How is down-low used in real life?

One can use down-low in general contexts for information that’s kept secret, discreet, or private (e.g., Keep this on the down-low, but I lost my job).

If a person is on the down-low, that means they are keeping a low profile and staying out of the public eye.

Down-low, however, is very frequently used to talk about Black men who secretly or discreetly engage in sex with each other. The 2007 TV show The DL Chronicles followed men of color leading secret sex lives—and also showcases that down-low is frequently abbreviated as DL.

More examples of down-low:

“Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt may lose his license to practice law — after failing to disclose an arrest on suspicion of assaulting a police officer in Virginia…Today Laxalt held an event in Reno, but refused to answer questions from local TV station KOLO ‘about why he’s been on the down low for the last few months.’”
—Rachel Hosie, The Independent (UK), April 2017


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use down-low in a sentence