I was wondering how these two differ in meaning?

under the table

informal money that is paid under the table is paid secretly and illegally.
Example- Payments were made under the table to local officials. Source


an amount of money that is paid to someone illegally in exchange for secret help or work.
Example- Bankhead got a contract to supply computers to the department in exchange for a kickback. Source

As you see, according to the definitions, they mean more or less the same thing (at least to me). Then, could you please let me know whether for instance the following sentences mean the same:
1- I gave him some money under the table to do that.
2- I gave him some money as a kickback to do that.

  • The difference is between general and particular. An under-the table payment is any kind of secret payment, often illegal, whereas a kickback is one particular kind or type of illegal payment. Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 8:14
  • Unfortunately, it is not clear to me yet @MichaelHarvey. May I ask you to let me know a little more?
    – A-friend
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 8:23

1 Answer 1


An under the table payment is usually a payment which is disguised or hidden, for example to avoid tax, hide illegal employment, etc.

  1. I work for an employer but he does not wish to pay any tax, pension, etc, as required by law, and neither do I. This may be simply because of greed, or because I cannot work legally (e.g. because of my immigration status), so he pays me all of my wages in cash and records the money in the business accounts as something else. The cash amount is 'under-the-table'.

  2. I work for an employer but he does not wish to pay the full amount of tax, pension, etc, as required by law, and neither do I, so he pays me some of my wages the legal way, and the rest in cash and records that in the business accounts as something else. The cash amount is 'under-the-table'.

  3. I buy a car from someone who wishes to avoid paying the full tax on the sale. The car costs $1000 but we pretend it costs $250. He issues a receipt for that amount, and the other $750 is an 'under-the-table' payment.

All these payments are potentially illegal. They are just examples where payments are not recorded properly, e.g. for tax and accounting purposes.

A kickback is a particular type of illegal payment, where some of the money received in the course of business is returned as a corrupt inducement.

I work for, or own, a company that makes or sells things that other companies or the government might buy (tanks, planes, cans of meat, drugs, medicines, computers, cars, hotel rooms for staff, whatever). I want these companies or the government to give my company a contract to supply the things. I secretly arrange with one or more officials of the customer organisation that I will offer the contract at a higher price than otherwise, and give some of the money which I get back ('kick it back' figuratively out of sight on the ground and not with my hands) directly and secretly to the authorising official. These payments are kickbacks. I could induce a bank official to authorise a loan where the bank would not normally grant it, and pay him some of it. Sometimes money is not used, but gifts instead - free airline tickets, crates of whisky, free or cheap cars, holidays, food, meals in restaurants, use of prostitutes, school fees for children, jobs for the official's relatives (many other things are possible).

  • Thank you Michael. Are the both considered types of bribery?
    – A-friend
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 11:28
  • 1
    A kickback is a form of bribery, but an under the table payment may be simply money properly owed which is deliberately omitted from, or incorrectly recorded in, accounts or tax records. Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 11:31

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