I'm looking for an idiom or fixed phrase meaning someone was paralyzed with the horror of a sight.


  • An old lady sees a young girl run over by a truck.
  • A middle-aged man sees his neighbor's teenage son be struck by lightning.

Not looking for a single word (there are too many of them) and it would fit a sentence like "He/She became/was/got/etc______________________."

  • 2
    Stunned/stupefied or dumbstruck/dumbfounded?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 23:59
  • @DanBron Those are not idioms.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 0:01
  • 1
    "Frozen by horror" might work.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 0:09
  • 4
    The word you may be seeking could be transfixed.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 0:11
  • 2
    What about gobsmacked?
    – user82840
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 2:56

6 Answers 6


The idiom stop dead in one's tracks seems to fit. The in one's tracks refers to "on the spot" or "where one is at the moment"; it was first recorded in 1824.

Fig. to stop completely still suddenly because of fear, a noise, etc.
(McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs.)

I ​stopped ​dead in my ​tracks when I ​heard the ​scream (CDO)

The idiom is a variant of stop cold, and stop dead.

He was so surprised to see them in the audience that he stopped dead in the middle of his speech

Related to the theme of being paralysed through extreme fear are the participles frozen and froze, the verb is often used to express sudden shock, horror, motionless or panic at something, which renders the person affected incapable of taking appropriate action.
All the following examples are taken from Dictionary.com

  • I froze in my tracks
  • The child was frozen with fear
  • My heart froze when she told me the news
  • Terror froze him to the steering wheel.
  • The lifeguard should have dived in for the boy, but she froze
  • Oh, nice one! This could end up being a really fun question.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 0:09
  • I see someone has been anonymously downvoting everyone's answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 7:30
  • I upvoted yours and so far it's the nearest to what I'm looking for.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 12:34
  • @Centaurus what do you mean it's the nearest. Why is this "close"?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 12:38
  • 1
    @Centaurus I think she's asking why is it "close" but no cigar? Not "what makes it good" but "what prevents it from being perfect", i.e. accepted?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 13:06

Be like a deer caught in the headlights - to be so frightened or surprised that you cannot move or think.

Each time they asked him a question he was like a deer caught in the headlights.

From Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.


To be Petrified is to be paralyzed or shocked into inaction by fear or horror.

"The old lady was petrified with horror at the sight of the girl going under the wheels of the truck."


terror stricken or terror-struck; in a state of terror

And exactly at the moment when the space between the wheels came opposite her, she dropped the red bag, and drawing her head back into her shoulders, fell on her hands under the carriage, and lightly, as though she would rise again at once, dropped on to her knees. And at the same instant she was terror-stricken at what she was doing. "Where am I? What am I doing? What for?" she tried to get up, to drop backwards; but something huge and merciless struck her on the head and rolled her on her back. "Lord, forgive me all!" she said, feeling it impossible to struggle

Anna Karenina By Tolstoy


Makes the blood run cold - Fig. to shock or horrify someone.

The terrible story in the newspaper made my blood run cold. I could tell you things about prisons that would make your blood run cold.

Scared Stiff - Fig. badly frightened.

We were scared stiff by the robber. I was scared stiff when the dog growled at me.


Scared to death may suggest the idea of being petrified by a strong emotion:

  • to make you feel extremely frightened, scare the hell out of you. David suddenly appeared like a ghost in the doorway and scared me to death.

(Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms)

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