Deer in the headlights

Deer in the headlights is a fairly recently established idiom. We will examine the meaning of the idiom deer in the headlights, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

A deer in the headlights is someone who is paralyzed with surprise, confusion or panic. Someone who is a deer in the headlights does not know how to react to a situation. The expression a deer in the headlights originated in the 1980s. The idiom is based on the fact that when a deer is exposed to a spotlight at night, he freezes with indecision. Deer are often hit by automobile drivers at night because they freeze in the light from the headlights shining from the car or truck. The phrase deer in the headlights was popularized during the American presidential campaign in 1988; it was used to describe the vice presidential candidate.

Examples

Maybe you caught our CAO on the news Tuesday night, with that all too familiar deer-in-the-headlights look, whining about being “blindsided” by the sheriff’s letter. (Red Bluff Daily News)

I’d seen terror in the eyes of strangers at the supermarket if you happened to pass too close — frozen, like deer in the headlights — but I never expected this kind of fear from people in my inner circle. (Psychology Today)

Meghan Markle’s mom Doria Ragland looked like a “deer in the headlights” on her wedding day, her dad Thomas Markle Sr. said. (The International Business Times)

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