Examples of down-low
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.
Who uses down-low?
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.
Lmao Tori keeps her personal life on the dl for a reason, stop assuming things and let her live geez
— k (@sweatyves) November 29, 2015
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.
This is not meant to be a formal definition of down-low like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of down-low that will help our users expand their word mastery.