under the counter

under the counter
Fig. [bought or sold] in secret or illegally. (Compare this to over the counter.) •

The drugstore owner was arrested for selling liquor under the counter.

The clerk sold dirty books under the counter.

* * *
{adv. phr.}, {informal} Secretly (bought or sold). * /That book has been banned, but there is one place you can get it under the counter./ * /The liquor dealer was arrested for selling beer under the counter to teenagers./ - Also used like an adjective, with hyphens. * /During World War II, some stores kept scarce things hidden for under-the-counter-sales to good customers./

Dictionary of American idioms. 2013.

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