like a rabbit (caught) in (the) headlights

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like a rabbit (caught) in (the) headlights

In a state or manner of paralyzing surprise, fear, or bewilderment. Likened to the tendency of rabbits to freeze in place in front of an oncoming vehicle. When she asked me to marry her, I could only stand there like a rabbit caught in headlights. He froze like a rabbit in the headlights when I caught him taking money out of the register.
See also: headlight, like, rabbit
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

like a rabbit caught in the headlights

or

like a deer caught in the headlights

If someone is like a rabbit caught in the headlights or like a deer caught in the headlights, they are so frightened or nervous that they do not know what to do. He just sat there, like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Diane fixes me with her cold, blue eyes: I am the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. Note: This expression is very variable. For example, you can just say that someone is caught or frozen in the headlights. He was caught in the headlights as he attempted to answer a string of questions about his relationship. The best thing for a writer caught in the headlights of unexpected celebrity is simply to keep writing and publishing. Note: Animals such as rabbits or deer sometimes remain still because they do not know which way to run when the light from a vehicle's headlights shines on them at night.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012
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References in periodicals archive ?
Faced with so many failings, there is a risk that even an experienced manager can freeze like a rabbit caught in headlights, with no idea how to begin to put things right.
Yes Brian Dowling, you did a good job in previous years, although there were times you looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. But now the end is near.
Kate proceeded to give Alex a massage while PJ stared like a rabbit caught in headlights.
Mr Brown will hit back after a wave of attacks - the latest from union chief Derek Simpson who said he was torn between old Labour and new and acting "like a rabbit caught in headlights".
Adding to the effect, when 31-year-old Robbie - whose new album Intensive Care is released in Germany on October 9 - was snapped by waiting photographers, he looked like a rabbit caught in headlights.
The noise transfixed Hague like a rabbit caught in headlights.
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