See more synonyms for under-the-counter on Thesaurus.com

Origin of under-the-counter

First recorded in 1945–50


  1. a table or display case on which goods can be shown, business transacted, etc.
  2. (in restaurants, luncheonettes, etc.) a long, narrow table with stools or chairs along one side for the patrons, behind which refreshments or meals are prepared and served.
  3. a surface for the preparation of food in a kitchen, especially on a low cabinet.
  4. anything used in keeping account, as a disk of metal or wood, used in some games, as checkers, for marking a player's position or for keeping score.
  5. an imitation coin or token.
  6. a coin; money.
  1. over the counter,
    1. (of the sale of stock) through a broker's office rather than through the stock exchange.
    2. (of the sale of merchandise) through a retail store rather than through a wholesaler.
  2. under the counter, in a clandestine manner, especially illegally: books sold under the counter.

Origin of counter

1300–50; Middle English countour < Anglo-French (Old French comptoir) < Medieval Latin computātorium place for computing, equivalent to Latin computā(re) to compute + -tōrium -tory2; cf. count1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for under the counter

bootleg, illicitly

British Dictionary definitions for under the counter


  1. a horizontal surface, as in a shop or bank, over which business is transacted
  2. (in some cafeterias) a long table on which food is served to customers
    1. a small flat disc of wood, metal, or plastic, used in various board games
    2. a similar disc or token used as an imitation coin
  3. a person or thing that may be used or manipulated
  4. a skating figure consisting of three circles
  5. under the counter (under-the-counter when prenominal) (of the sale of goods, esp goods in short supply) clandestine, surreptitious, or illegal; not in an open manner
  6. over the counter (over-the-counter when prenominal) (of security transactions) through a broker rather than on a stock exchange

Word Origin for counter

C14: from Old French comptouer, ultimately from Latin computāre to compute


  1. in a contrary direction or manner
  2. in a wrong or reverse direction
  3. run counter to to have a contrary effect or action to
  1. opposing; opposite; contrary
  1. something that is contrary or opposite to some other thing
  2. an act, effect, or force that opposes another
  3. a return attack, such as a blow in boxing
  4. fencing a parry in which the foils move in a circular fashion
  5. the portion of the stern of a boat or ship that overhangs the water aft of the rudder
  6. Also called: void printing the inside area of a typeface that is not type high, such as the centre of an "o", and therefore does not print
  7. the part of a horse's breast under the neck and between the shoulders
  8. a piece of leather forming the back of a shoe
  1. to say or do (something) in retaliation or response
  2. (tr) to move, act, or perform in a manner or direction opposite to (a person or thing)
  3. to return the attack of (an opponent)

Word Origin for counter

C15: from Old French contre, from Latin contrā against


  1. a person who counts
  2. an apparatus that records the number of occurrences of events
  3. any instrument for detecting or counting ionizing particles or photonsSee Geiger counter, scintillation counter, crystal counter
  4. electronics another name for scaler (def. 2)

Word Origin for counter

C14: from Old French conteor, from Latin computātor; see count 1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for under the counter



mid-14c., "table where a money lender does business," from Old French contouer, comptoir (14c.) "counting room, table of a bank," from Medieval Latin computatorium "place of accounts," from Latin computatus, past participle of computare (see compute). Generalized 19c. from banks to shops, then extended to display cases for goods. Phrase under the counter is from 1926.



"go against," late 14c., from Old French countre "facing opposite" (see counter-). Related: Countered; countering. As an adverb, from mid-15c.; as an adjective, from 1590s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

under the counter in Medicine


  1. One that counts, especially an electronic or mechanical device that automatically counts occurrences or repetitions of phenomena or events.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with under the counter

under the counter

Secretly, surreptitiously, as in I'm sure they're selling liquor to minors under the counter. This expression most often alludes to an illegal transaction, the counter being the flat-surfaced furnishing or table over which legal business is conducted. It was first recorded in 1926. Also see under the table.


see run counter to; under the counter.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.