phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

On the DL

Posted by Baceseras on September 18, 2007

In Reply to: On the DL posted by Brian from Shawnee on September 18, 2007

: : : I was looking for the phrase "On the DL" (On the down low) but you didn't have it listed. I found "On the QT" which is very similar. I am curious as to how "On the DL" came to be. It is used most commonly when referring to extramarital affairs but more specifically to affairs that are homo-sexual in nature.
: : : Examples:

: : : In General reference "Lets keep this on the DL" Same as "on the QT"
: : : Referring to an affair "I have been seeing her on the DL"
: : : Referring to a homo-sexual affair "He has been creepin on DL"

: : See

: Funny, but as a baseball fan when I see the phrase "on the DL" I think "on the disabled list". A player on the Disabled List sits out games for a specified number of days due to injury, during which time he can be temporarily replaced on the major league roster by a minor leaguer.

The basic and original meaning of "on the down-low" is "kept quiet" or "kept to oneself"; the image comes from the notion of speaking quietly, not to be overheard. Little by little the use of the expression was narrowed to mean secret homosexual activity; but it still can be applied to any closely held knowledge when the context makes that clear.

In this it's similar to "in the closet", which comes from the older sense of closet as one's private chamber, a room where other people do not come and go without permission. Think of "closet drama", theatricals given privately; or for that matter "chamber music", performed by small ensembles in small rooms, not a large public concert hall.

Both "down-low" and "closet" retain the older sense of knowledge shared only among a select few; we must depend on context to tell when homosexuality is or is not the intended meaning.