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Looking back on a time when we ran into what briefly seemed like a bear in the woods, I said in conversation:

Wir standen da wie angewurzelt.

...to express the idea of our finding ourselves fear-struck and helplessly "riveted to the spot", as you say "like a stump (of a tree)" in English.

Now I'm wondering if the usage of "wie angewurzelt" can extend to instances where you cannot tear/pull yourself away from the TV etc, as if to be rooted in front of them, only because you are completely engrossed in that activity?

Can "wie angewurzelt" be used to convey the idea of being riveted to the TV screen etc of your own accord, as opposed to fear-induced temporary paralysis? Or in the case of such voluntary immobility, would you use some other expression?

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Wie angewurzelt stehen bleiben

just indicates sudden stopping and staying motionless, it has no no relation to the reason of stopping. While fear is a plausible one, others are no less valid, as surprise, the attempt to make no noise for better hearing, avoidance of getting an ugly task etc.

Not being able to move from the TV asks for a different phrase, because sitting and watching is already mostly motionless, as opposed to someone walking in a room, where a running TV set shows shocking news.

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Wie angewurzelt stehen(bleiben) is indeed listed first as

vor Schreck / Überraschung / Verwunderung / Aufregung stehen bleiben

and

stehenbleiben wie angewurzelt · wie erstarrt sein · zur Salzsäule erstarren (ugs.)
Assoziationen:
außer Fassung · entgeistert · fassungslos · ... (wie) betäubt · entsetzt · erschrocken · ...

This is an idiomatic expression that when related to or caused by fear takes its drama mostly from the tension of a moving person suddenly seizing to move, now resembling a rooting plant that never changes spots. But in a more general use the word angewurzelt just implies a situation in which a person is simply as motionless as plant, regardless of of how fast or gradual the person "took root".

It's funny how Google immediately assumes you might be wrong for searching "wie angewurzelt sitzen".

In real usage this combination might sound a bit creative, but it just goes back to the originl metaphor from the plant kingdom:

Bedeutung
in der Erde Wurzeln schlagen Beispiel:
die Pflanze, der Baum ist angewurzelt anwachsen Beispiele: wie angewurzelt (= unbeweglich, angefesselt) stehen bleiben

Did I say it sounds a bit creative? The playfulness of not using the standing combination with stehen is illustrated here:

enter image description here Via: Hier bleib ich wie angewurzelt sitzen

This just is in use among German speakers:

Es gibt Stücke, da möchte man ständig Textzeilen notieren, damit man sie nur ja nicht vergisst. Da sieht man in Abgründe, die einen erschaudern lassen. Und trotzdem bleibt man wie angewurzelt sitzen, weil sich da abseits von Gewalt und Missbrauch etwas auftut, das einen nur noch staunen lässt, zumal es einem plötzlich wie Schuppen von den Augen fällt, "was innen geht".
meinbezirk.at: Die Kraft der Verwandlung, 2016

Some other examples for your intended use case:

Die Handlung selbst spielt sich auf den Bildschirmen von Fernsehern ab, vor denen alle – bis hin zum Präsidenten der Vereinigten Staaten – wie angewurzelt sitzen. ––– Dort haben sie 20 Minuten wie angewurzelt auf ihrem Zweig gesessen und auf mein mehrfaches rufen überhaupt nicht reagiert. –––

Conclusio

Yes: You can use angewurzelt for "being riveted to the TV screen" (although only your eyes are, really, "riveted to the screen" your backside is riveted to the couch?).

The general context asked for is quite simple: whenever you compare the lack of a persons motion to a plant.

Judgement call: I would not use angewurzelt for this situation. But the synonyms listed here offer a nice choice already to express less of the purely physical phenomenon but more of the neurological and psychological effects:

bewegungslos, erstarrt, ohne Bewegung, reglos, regungslos, ruhig, starr, statuenhaft, still, unbeweglich, unbewegt, wie gelähmt, wie versteinert; (gehoben) wie aus Erz gegossen; (bildungssprachlich) wie paralysiert.

Since we're talking about TV I would therefore most likely choose gelähmt, entgeistert, and recently it's mostly erschrocken, and fassungslos.

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  • I don't quite agree with the use of "suddenly". One doesn't have to suddenly stop in one's motion to be angewurzelt. Fact is that one is more or less paralyzed as if one had grown roots, but this situation doesn't have to occur suddenly. – Rudy Velthuis Aug 16 '18 at 9:21
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    @RudyVelthuis I disagree with your disagreement. I really think the suddenly part is an important aspect of the idiom. – tofro Aug 16 '18 at 10:41
  • @tofro: There is nothing "suddenly" about being angewurzelt, IMO. The only thing it says is that you are paralyzed, usually because of somehow being perplexed. How you came to be that way doesn't have to be suddenly. – Rudy Velthuis Aug 16 '18 at 12:36
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Steh' da nicht wie angewurzelt, mit den Händen in den Taschen. Hilf mit!

There's is no connection between angewurzelt sein and fear. In the contrary, it's much more often used to address slackers, couch potatoes and other lazy folk who move so little they sure had Wurzeln geschlagen.

Schlag da keine Wurzeln! Pack an!

Wurzeln schlagen also has a second meaning, to put down roots at a new place, in a new country etc.

The correct picture for being paralyzed by fear is

Starr vor Schreck guckte ich den Bären an. Und er mich.

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    "Wie angewurzelt stehen bleiben" klingt für mich schon nach Angst, "wie angewurzelt vor dem Fernseher sitzen" eher nicht. Ich glaube, die Angst kommt durch das Stehenbleiben da rein. – Roland Illig Aug 16 '18 at 6:43
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Usually, wie angewurzelt is only used when a person is standing (like a tree).

In your TV example something like "völlig gebannt" or "regungslos" when someone sits. Someone who walks by and is attracted by something on TV (he doesn't have to be shocked, but really thrilled) could wie angewurzelt stehenbleiben, als er ... im Fernsehen sah.

Still, it would be well understood and most probably not be frowned upon if you said something like Wir saßen wie angewurzelt vor dem Fernseher.

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