seize up

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The term originates c. 1870 referring to a machine which jammed up because of excessive heat or friction. It has been used figuratively since c. 1950.


seize up (third-person singular simple present seizes up, present participle seizing up, simple past and past participle seized up)

  1. (figuratively) To stop functioning; to come to a halt.
    Iceland's foreign currency market has seized up after the three largest banks collapsed.
  2. (of muscles) To stiffen or become tight and difficult to move.
    It was hard to write as my fingers had seized up with the cold weather.
  3. (of a machine) To stop working suddenly, and become impossible to start again.
    My car seized up this morning. So I had to catch the bus.



See also[edit]


  • "seize up" in Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Houghton Mifflin Company (1997).