It has been described as three opposing persons or groups in which anyone of them is hostile toward the other two persons or groups. With weapons pointing toward their enemy for anyone to fire upon one of those in whom they are hostile could cause a chain reaction in which no one would come out a winner. The term is also used concerning two hostile opponents who have weapons drawn against one another.
Now days it is used both figuratively and literally. Politicians running against one another for a public office may equally have damaging information on his or her opponent. This can cause a standoff in which neither individual dare relate particular information on the opponent less that person does the same in kind.
During the so-called Cold War era the communist countries and the free world kept one another at bay in that both had nuclear weapons.
The origin of the expression “Mexican standoff” is uncertain. Some think it began in the 19th century in the southwestern area of the United States. One amusing story is that it began in Mexico, not the United States. That suppose origin is as follows: Two horse drawn carriages were going in opposite directions and met on a narrow street in which they could not pass one another. Each insisted that the other back his carriage back so that he could go on through. Neither would give an inch. In fact, they had servants to bring them food and water while waiting the other out. This went on for several days until the authorities made both of them back out of the narrow street.
There are those who believe the modifier “Mexican” was added as an American slang depicting that which is inferior. This would be shameful if that is how it was coined “Mexican standoff.”
Dub Mowery is a Gospel preacher in the Church of Christ. Presently he serves as full time evangelist for the Pittsburg Church of Christ. A native of Southeast Oklahoma, he is the author of Colloquial Sayings & Expressions (Morris Publishing, 2008)