Word of the Day

Mexican wave

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an occasion when people watching a sports event stand up and sit down in groups, so that their movements look like a large wave moving through the crowd

Origin and usage

Mexican wave is a descriptive phrase that is derived from the motion of spectators who participate in the exercise of moving in near unison like an ocean wave. Most sports historians agree that it first came to international sport during the 1986 World Cup, which was held in Mexico. The word ‘wave’ comes from the Old Norse ‘vagr’ meaning ‘water in motion’.


The phrase Mexican wave refers to a common occurrence at many international sporting events. Spectators in an arena stand and then sit in groups until every section in the stadium has participated in turn. From a distance, the movements of the crowd look like a rolling ocean wave.

The exact origin of the phrase is somewhat disputed. Some sports historians believe that the wave was made popular by fans of American college football teams in the 1970s or early 1980s. Others insist the custom was started by local football fans in Mexico even earlier than that.

Most historians agree, however, that the Mexican wave first came on the international scene during the 1986 World Cup, which was hosted by Mexico.

Whatever the precise origin of the Mexican wave, it is now one of the most common forms of crowd participation at sporting events both large and small all over the world. Fans of nearly all spectator sports have been known to perform the Mexican wave. It does tend to be a rather rumbustious way to celebrate, so the Mexican wave is generally not appropriate for sports like tennis or golf, where spectators are encouraged to remain quiet.

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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