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Definition of Idiomatic Expressions


What does Mexican standoff mean?

Meaning of idioms with examples...

Mexican standoff


The phrase Mexican standoff is used to refer to confrontations in which no one seems to emerge as a winner.

Synonyms of the phrase include 'deadlock, gridlock, halt, and impasse.'

The origin if the 'Mexican standoff'

According to Wikipedia, the idiom dates back to the 19th century. It is believed that it probably refers to the Mexican–American War or post-war Mexican bandits in the 19th century.

The earliest record of the expression was March 19, 1876, in a short story about Mexico, an American being held up by a Mexican bandit:
"Go-!" said he sternly then. "We will call it a stand-off, a Mexican stand-off, you lose your money, but you save your life!"
— F. Harvey SmithSunday Mercury, New York, 1876

Historically, reporters have referred to the Soviet Union – United States nuclear confrontation during the Cold War as a Mexican standoff since both powers were equally equipped to destroy each other militarily, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

This expression is also used in business where one party asks for something such as a concession of some sort and is giving nothing of value in return. When the other party sees no benefit in agreeing, they refuse to negotiate and thus create a standoff situation.

In cinema, the phrase Mexican standoff is also a movie plot device used in situations where characters face each other at gunpoint.


"A marathon videoconference call between OPEC and other producers lasted until early Friday morning, when it apparently devolved into a Mexican standoff. The cartel, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia say Mexico’s refusal to agree blocked the proposed accord." Market Watch

It is useless to continue the negotiations; I think it will be a Mexican standoff.

This idiom is in the nationalities category

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