"sudden nervous shock and paralysis, the state of an animal when it is feigning death," 1880, from German kataplexie (1878), from Greek kataplexis "stupefaction, amazement, consternation," from kataplessein "to strike down" (with fear, etc.), from kata "down" (see cata-) + plessein "to strike, hit" (from PIE root *plak- (2) "to strike"). The German word was coined by William Thierry Preyer (1841-1897), English-born German physiologist, in "Die Kataplexie und der thierische Hypnotismus" (Jena). Related: Cataplectic.
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