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A Mexican standoff is a slang term defined as a stalemate or impasse; a confrontation that neither side can foreseeably win.[1] The term is most often used in lieu of 'stalemate' when the confrontational situation is exceptionally dangerous for all parties involved.

In popular culture, the Mexican standoff is usually portrayed as two or more opponents with guns drawn and ready, creating a tense situation. Neither side is willing to shoot for fear of being shot in return, yet neither side wants to relinquish its weapons for fear that its opponents will shoot them. This situation forces the participants to resolve the situation either by diplomacy, surrender, or a pre-emptive strike. Discussions of the Soviet Union-United States nuclear confrontation during the Cold War frequently used the term, specifically in reference to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

This expression came into usage during the last decade of the 19th century; the Cambridge Dictionary makes an unattributed claim that the term is of Australian origin.[2]

The Mexican standoff is now considered a movie cliché through its frequent use in Spaghetti Westerns, B-movies, and the films of Ringo Lam (specifically City on Fire), Quentin Tarantino (especially the basement bar scene of Inglourious Basterds and Reservoir Dogs, itself based on City on Fire) and John Woo. Nevertheless, it remains a staple in popular culture because of its potential for high-tension drama.

Other Uses of the Term

A Mexican Standoff is also used to describe a clause in a partnership agreement that a minority share holder may invoke when the partnership is dissolving. The partners each secretly write what they would pay to own the entire company. The highest bidder receives ownership and is required to pay the losing bidder(s) their portion of the company based on the winning price. Minority share holders often insist on this clause where majority holders would rather not undergo the possibility.

A Mexican Standoff is used to describe the situation that develops between members of the drinking game "fingers" as the game progresses down to the last two participants. The two remaining participants facing each other to determine who will be required to drink the mandatory "losers shot" have the highest chance for "success" as their chances for "victory" have increased to 1 chance in 2 with the elimination of all other participants. The "calling" participant will effectively attempt to guess whether or not his/her opponent will leave their finger on the glass upon the call of 1, 2, 3, - ? and in so doing, either leave their finger on the glass or remove it in accordance with the guess they are making. It is common for the "eliminated victors" to chant "Mexican Standoff!" upon the elimination of the second-to-last participant as the game enters its "heads up" final round.

See also


  1. TheFreeDictionary. "A situation in which no one can emerge as a clear winner." Date accessed: 07 NOV 2010.
  2. "Mexican standoff", Cambridge Dictionary (Cambridge University Press),, retrieved 2009-12-19

External links

bn:মেক্সিকান স্ট্যান্ডঅফ de:Mexican standoff fr:Mexican standoff it:Stallo alla messicana he:תיקו מקסיקני mk:Мексиканска ситуација ja:メキシカン・スタンドオフ tr:Meksika açmazı pt:Impasse mexicano

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