a deer in the headlights

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 ?
Four years ago, when I started my career at Rivero Mestre, I was a deer in the headlights learning the ins-and-outs of the job.
I was aware I was feeling like a deer in the headlights.
Perspiration dotted his forward, anguish covered his face, but his eyes remained as wide as a deer in the headlights on nearby Interstate 79.
There's your brother on the other end going for it, doing his Mick Jagger, and you are like a deer in the headlights.
While you may be tempted to use your high-beam headlights when a deer is directly in front of you, they could cause a deer to stop in its tracks rather than running to safety just "like a deer in the headlights.
Sometimes their eyes get real big, like a deer in the headlights, like they don't know what hit them.