Page 1 of 1

on the down-low

Posted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 1:34 pm
by JerrySmile

on the down-low

Does this mean
to do or keep something a secret


Re: On the down-low

Posted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 2:17 pm
by Tony Farg
I have never ever heard the expression. What was the context?

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 4:25 pm
by trolley
The "down low" usually means to keep secret or be discreet about something.
"I'll tell you the defininition, but you"ll have to keep it on the down low"
Like a secret, it is usually used with the word "keep". It can also refer to the lifestyle of a gay man. That would be one who lives on the down low or "DL". I'm not sure which came first, the homosexual or secret meaning. I'm sure that at one point (if not still) living on the down low was something that you wanted kept on the down low.

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 6:06 pm
by dalehileman

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 6:22 pm
by trolley
Hhmmm, a lot more specific than I thought.

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 8:42 pm
by Shelley
Something tells me I do NOT want to click on dalehileman's link.

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 12:34 pm
by spiritus
Keep this on the down-low. I counted six squares.

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 2:12 pm
by JerrySmile
>The "down low" usually means to keep secret or be discreet about something.

This is good enough for my context.
Thank you all.

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 6:35 pm
by JANE DOErell
Shelley wrote:Something tells me I do NOT want to click on dalehileman's link.
Go over to and search for down-low and click on the wicki link. Then on the wicki page there is a link to down-low MSM. This was, as of today, and insofar as I know, the most accurate definition of how down-low is currently being used in the Western US

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 11:13 pm
by trolley
Shelley, there's really nothing too wild in Dale's links. I just meant that my "in the closet" ideas weren't the real low-down on down-low. But wait, there's more......

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Wed Aug 06, 2008 6:48 am
by Ken Greenwald
Jerry et al, The Wikipedia link that Jane suggested above provides very interesting reading. It appears to be well-documented with references, etc. (much better than usual) and most of it is probably O.K. But when I checked their Cassell’s citation, I found errors. This is not that big of a deal in itself, but it makes one wonder what else they might have gotten wrong. And so, with my usual queasiness about the wonders of Wikipedia, I’m providing the following Wordwizard short guide to DOWN-LOW from the makers of the Oxford English Dictionary and from Wordwizard Jonathon Green’s Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, who are pretty reliable, mostly. (<;)

So here’s their low-down on DOWN-LOW (John, it’s difficult to resist saying that!):


DOWN LOW noun [1990s and still in use] (U.S. Black): A state of secrecy [from down low adjective]

DOWN LOW adjective [1990s and still in use] (U.S. Black): Covert, secret [i.e. keeping a low profile]

ON THE DOWN LOW (phrase) (also) ON THE D.L., ON THE LOW [1990s and still in use] (originally U.S. Black):

1) In the background, clandestine; as an adverb, in a clandestine manner.

2) of a (married) man, having homosexual relations despite parading an ostensibly heterosexual lifestyle.

3) Being a fan of hip-hop/rap music [from down low noun / D.L. noun

D.L. noun (U.S. Black): A state of secrecy [abbreviation for down low noun]

D.L. adjective (U.S. Black/teen): [abbreviation for down low adjective]

D.L. verb (U.S. teen): To keep secret or hidden [from D.L. adjective]

D.L. adverb (U.S. Black): In a clandestine, sneaky manner [from D.L. adjective]

D.L.C. noun [1990s and still in use] (U.S. campus): A deep or heavy conversation [abbreviation for down low conversation (from down low adjective)


DOWN-LOW [[also DOWN LOW]], adjective and noun [from ‘down’ adverb + ‘low’ adjective Cf. low-down noun]

DOWN-LOW adjective: Secret, quiet, low-profile; (in later use) specifically of or relating to men who secretly engage in homosexual activity.
<1991 “I was never no outgoing type. . . So I guess I was on that DOWN LOW tip.”—Source, July, page 53/3>

<2002 “Like other big NY-based jocks, he rarely spins in the city, but when he does, it's a DOWN-LOW, under-hyped affair.”—Village Voice (New York), 1 January, page 76/5>

<2004 “The strangulation of a Bronx prosecutor leads Stabler and Benson to investigate the ‘DOWN LOW’ world of married African-American men who have gay affairs on the side.”—Time Out N.Y., 1 July, page 148/2>

<2006 “. . . its documentary on the ‘DOWN-LOW’ phenomenon of married men secretively chasing homosexual relationships. Associated Press, 23 October>

<2008 “I also found myself romantically linked to some of the most adored members of hip-hop, and became part of their ‘DOWN-LOW’ underground.”—The Advocate (the national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), 20 May>
DOWN-LOW noun [[often in the phrase]] on the down-low [[the phrase may be adjectival or adverbial]]: quiet, low-profile; in secret; (in later use) specifically (of a man) secretly engaging in homosexual activity. Abbreviated DL. cf. on the quiet: privately; in secret; cf. on the (strict) q.t.: on the quiet, in secret, in confidence.
<1992 “Specifics on this work-in-progress are being kept ON THE DOWN-LOW, but word is the De La brothers have once again reinvented themselves.”—Billboard Magazine, 23 May, page 22/4>

<1994 “The media steadfastly deny that this is a race story -- the issue is spousal abuse. But by chasing O. J. down the highway, canine unit close behind; by darkening his likeness on the cover of Time; above all by failing to examine its own history of demonizing the Black male, the media is calling O. J. a nigga’ ON THE DOWN LOW.”—Philadelphia Tribune (Pennsylvania), 1 July>

<1995 “That Tarantino [film director Quentin] can call it out, tell it like it is, give the ultimate ‘read,’ the ON-THE-DOWN-LOW diss, is part of the magic.”—Artforum International, 1 March> [[homosexual disparagement ala his Pulp Fiction]]

<1997 “He has street informants whose names he prefers to keep ON THE DOWN LOW.”—New York Times, 5 January>

<2000 “Jackson struck upon the idea of throwing parties that catered to what he saw as a burgeoning group of men who . . . are ‘attracted to guns and guys who are into the life,’ and who are also ‘ON THE DOWN LOW and yet wanting to party.’”—Village Voice (New York), 8 February, page 48/1>

<2000 “Webb kept his status as a Hell's Angel ON THE DOWN-LOW, since he was entering Outlaws territory.”—Hell’s Angel by R. Barger et al, xiii. page 233>

<2001 “In street vernacular, it is a gay life lived ON THE ‘DOWN LOW.’ To many, like Jay, DOWN LOW means double life. Jay . . . describes himself as bisexual.”—New York Times, 11 February, page 37>

<2003 “I realized that it would prove too difficult to pick out . . . the ones who were married and in there ON THE DOWNLOW.”—Nervous by ‘Zane,’ xxxv. page 247>

<2005 (book title) “On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of Straight Black Men Who Sleep With Men.” by J. L. King>

<2007 “This past March, when the project was still operating ON THE DOWN LOW, I became the first reporter invited inside these offices.”—Popular Mechanics, 7 July>

<2008 “If we're going to talk about this, we're going to have to keep it quiet - ON THE DOWN LOW, as the kids say.”—Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colorado), 26 April>
(quotes from Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources)

Ken – August 5, 2008

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2008 1:32 am
by spiritus


Some of the definitions are suggestive of the truly low-down...and that's on the up-and-up.

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2008 10:12 pm
by Ken Greenwald
Che, True. And thanks for the heads-up. Here's some follow-up and a rundown on my uptake. I agree that there doesn't appear to be much upside to some of the lowdown on DOWN LOW, which we do tend to downplay. But maybe we should let up, for who are we to say it's a downer for those who would give it a thumbs-up and think that we have the whole thing up-side-down? Perhaps we ought to back up on the put-down (not getting too hung up), which, upon reflection, might be downright wrong! Or am I being too upbeat on the ‘downside’ of DOWN LOW?

Ken - August 14, 2008

Re: on the down-low

Posted: Fri Aug 15, 2008 4:19 am
by spiritus

That is possible, though it is perceptually relative.

Any further discussion might well be reflective of the relative direction, DOWNHILL (an etymological redundancy), depending upon ones opinion and perspective. Yet, as earthly beings sharing a subjective coordinate system that is spherical, we can never avail ourselves of an absolute direction or perception. Our positions, just like our opinions, determine what is up or down, more or less, and right or wrong. Every view proceeds from a point of reference.