under the counter

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1 [koun-ter]
a table or display case on which goods can be shown, business transacted, etc.
(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.
a surface for the preparation of food in a kitchen, especially on a low cabinet.
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.
an imitation coin or token.
a coin; money.
over the counter,
(of the sale of stock) through a broker's office rather than through the stock exchange.
(of the sale of merchandise) through a retail store rather than through a wholesaler.
under the counter, in a clandestine manner, especially illegally: books sold under the 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

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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
counter1 (ˈkaʊntə)
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
3.  a.  a small flat disc of wood, metal, or plastic, used in various board games
 b.  a similar disc or token used as an imitation coin
4.  a person or thing that may be used or manipulated
5.  a skating figure consisting of three circles
6.  (under-the-counter when prenominal) under the counter (of the sale of goods, esp goods in short supply) clandestine, surreptitious, or illegal; not in an open manner
7.  (over-the-counter when prenominal) over the counter (of security transactions) through a broker rather than on a stock exchange
[C14: from Old French comptouer, ultimately from Latin computāre to compute]

counter2 (ˈkaʊntə)
1.  a person who counts
2.  an apparatus that records the number of occurrences of events
3.  Geiger counter scintillation counter See crystal counter any instrument for detecting or counting ionizing particles or photons
4.  electronics another name for scaler
[C14: from Old French conteor, from Latin computātor; see count1]

counter3 (ˈkaʊntə)
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
4.  opposing; opposite; contrary
5.  something that is contrary or opposite to some other thing
6.  an act, effect, or force that opposes another
7.  a return attack, such as a blow in boxing
8.  fencing a parry in which the foils move in a circular fashion
9.  the portion of the stern of a boat or ship that overhangs the water aft of the rudder
10.  printing Also called: void the inside area of a typeface that is not type high, such as the centre of an "o", and therefore does not print
11.  the part of a horse's breast under the neck and between the shoulders
12.  a piece of leather forming the back of a shoe
13.  to say or do (something) in retaliation or response
14.  (tr) to move, act, or perform in a manner or direction opposite to (a person or thing)
15.  to return the attack of (an opponent)
[C15: from Old French contre, from Latin contrā against]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

mid-14c., "table where a money lender does business," from O.Fr. contouer "counting room, table of a bank," from M.L. computatorium "place of accounts," from L. computare (see compute). Generalized 19c. from banks to shops, then extended to display cases for goods. Countertop
is attested from 1878. Phrase under the counter is from 1926.

"go against," early 14c., from O.Fr. countre "facing opposite" (see counter-).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

counter count·er (koun'tər)
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.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

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.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Idioms & Phrases
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