be scared stiff(redirected from they have been scared stiff)
be scared stiff
To be utterly terrified; to be so scared that one cannot move. I was scared stiff when I heard someone in our kitchen in the middle of the night. Janet has been scared stiff after her encounter with that mountain lion.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
scared silly/stiff/to death, to be
To be extremely frightened; panicstricken. The earliest version of such hyperbolic expressions seems to have been to be scared or frightened out of one’s wits, which appeared in print in 1697: “Distracted and frighted out of his wits” (Bishop Simon Patrick, Commentary). Later it was frightened or scared out of one’s seven senses (used by Jonathan Swift and Sir Walter Scott), still later replaced by silly, with the same meaning. Stiff alludes to paralysis by fright, death to dying of terror. A mid-twentieth-century equivalent is to scare the pants off someone (Ogden Nash, and others). Also see shake in one's shoes.
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer