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I wanted to write about intense fear, something like abject terror, but implying that it strikes you dumb with fear. Am I missing something obvious, or should I just settle for changing the wording to avoid the problem?

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There is exactly such a word:

so shocked or surprised as to be unable to speak: he was dumbstruck with terror.


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Dumbfounded would also work; which is better depends on context. – TimLymington Feb 9 '12 at 12:19
I think OP is looking for an adjective describing the object that makes you dumbstruck. That is, horrifying is to horrified as x is to dumbstruck. – slim Feb 9 '12 at 12:28
@Tim: To be dumbfounded is to be confused or perplexed; it means you have encountered an extremely puzzling situation, not necessarily a terrifying one. – Robusto Feb 9 '12 at 13:29

Are you looking for stupefying?

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Hmm, I admit that I hadn't thought of that. At first glance it doesn't seem like what I was looking for, but I may come round to it. 'Stupefying terror' feels slightly tautological. – Benjol Feb 9 '12 at 10:17

I can think of stunning, paralysing, shocking, staggering, traumatising, devastating, demolishing, overwhelming, shattering, ravaging terror.

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That's one heck of a terror! – Hellion Feb 9 '12 at 22:40
@Hellion: he, he, yes. – CesarGon Feb 10 '12 at 2:22
+1 for paralysing (paralyzing) fear. – Callithumpian Feb 10 '12 at 2:29
I like stunning, and paralysing is quite good (I did also have 'deer in the headlights' in mind as a metaphor). – Benjol Feb 10 '12 at 5:45

Another option I thought of today was aphonic, but I think that is a tad too esoteric, and more likely just to trip readers up.

In the end, I think the solution was staring me in the face:

abject, speechless terror

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What about "I was rendered speechless"? It might be so common that it's more of a cliche.

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“nonplus” answers the broad question posed by your title.

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