a deer in (the) headlights

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a deer in (the) headlights

Someone caught in a state of paralyzing surprise, fear, or bewilderment. Likened to the tendency of deer to freeze in place in front of an oncoming vehicle. Often used in the phrase "like a deer in the headlights." Mary turned into a deer in the headlights when she forgot her lines in the middle of the play. He froze like a deer in the headlights when I caught him taking money out of the register. When she asked me to marry her, I could only stand there like a deer in the headlights.
See also: deer, headlight

(be caught/freeze like) a deer in the ˈheadlights

(also (be caught like) a rabbit in the ˈheadlights) used to describe somebody who appears so frightened that they cannot think clearly and do not know what to do or say: The senator was caught like a deer in the headlights in a TV interview.a deer-in-the-headlights look
See also: deer, headlight
References in periodicals archive ?
"I was a deer in headlights at the start of Red Rock and she guided me."
Minnesota congresswoman Bachmann appeared on the latest issue with her eyes bulging, looking frozen like a deer in headlights.
She stood frozen like a deer in headlights." "His eyes were wide open in a state of perpetual shock." "He walks as if on eggshells." "Her lips were tightly stretched, the muscles in her neck bulging like cords holding her head in place."
"A Deer in Headlights" is the chapter in Quilting that initially served as the working title for the book.
My lawyer looks like a deer in headlights. The judge asks me about hobbies, and I tell him I love to read.
Bachmann appears on the latest issue with her eyes bulging, looking frozen like a deer in headlights.