Mexican standoff


Steampunk-styled enactment of a three-way Mexican standoff.
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1876 US.[1]

Three-way gun standoffs, popularized in spaghetti westerns such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), have come to be called Mexican standoffs, though this usage appears to date to the 1990s, notably in reference to Reservoir Dogs (1992); earlier usage refers to this as a “three-way standoff” or “triangular standoff”.


Mexican standoff ‎(plural Mexican standoffs)

  1. (idiomatic, slang) A stalemate, or a confrontation between two or more sides that no side can win.
    • 1876 19 March 1876, F. Harvey Smith, “Mexican Stand-Off”, Sunday Mercury, New York, page 2/col. 5:
      “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!”[1]
  2. (idiomatic, slang specifically) A confrontation between two or more armed parties, neither of which wants to attack first (fearing that the other could retaliate), but neither of which will disarm (for fear the other will attack).
  3. (idiomatic, slang specifically) A three-way or more standoff.
    • 1999, Foster Hirsch, Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-noir, page 259:
      [About Reservoir Dogs] In this scene, and in the three-way shootout, a Mexican standoff, the extreme, almost operatic violence is grazed with black comedy
  4. (rail transport) A near-collision between two trains, an averted cornfield meet.

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 Sam Clements (2013-07-26), “antedating "Mexican standoff" (OED/HDAS 1891)”, ads-l, Usenet[1], retrieved 2016-02-03
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