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 ?
Title: Reinventing Retail Writer: Ian Shepherd Publisher: Publisher Price: PS16.99 Anyone who is caught like a rabbit in the headlights by the revolution sweeping retail should read this book.
He said: "I felt like a rabbit in the headlights. I didn't know what to do on Civvy Street."
ALAN IRVINE admits that West Brom record signing Brown Ideye has looked like a rabbit in the headlights in the Premier League so far.
"I think we got caught a bit like a rabbit in the headlights. We were outmuscled, second to everything and it was a poor night in every respect.
The Chancellor can either act to save the British economy or be paralysed like a rabbit in the headlights and watch it crash.
"She was like a rabbit in the headlights of a car, and is so nervous her eyes were like organ stops."
He declared: "I felt like a rabbit in the headlights at Hoylake.