from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective figuratively surprised, shocked
  • adjective nautical said of a ship, when the wind, suddenly changing, forces the sails aft against the mast
  • verb Past participle of take aback


Sorry, no etymologies found.


    Sorry, no example sentences found.


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  • I was fascinated to learn that this was originally a nautical term. Here's the OED's explanation:

    3. Naut. Said of the sails of a ship, when laid back against the mast, with the wind bearing against their front surfaces. Also, of the ship, when her sails are so laid.

    1697 JUMPER in Lond. Gaz. mmmcccxv. 1, I braced my main topsails aback. 1762 FALCONER Shipwreck ii. 427 Away there! lower the mizen yard on deck, He calls, and brace the foremost yards aback! 1790 R. BEATSON Nav. and Mil. Mem. II. 58 The Revenge was necessitated to throw her sails all aback. 1847 ROSS Voyage to South Pole II. 217 We instantly hove all aback to diminish the violence of the shock.

    b. Hence the nautical phrase to be taken aback, ‘when through a shift of wind or bad steerage, the wind comes in front of the square sails and lays them back against the masts, instantly staying the ship's onward course and giving her stern way; an accident exceedingly dangerous in a strong gale.’ Sir John Richardson.

    1754 EELES Let. 2, in Phil. Trans. XLIX. 144 If they luff up, they will be taken aback, and run the hazard of being dismasted. 1870 Daily News Sept. 16 This proves to my mind that the Captain was taken as flat aback as could be by a squall striking her from starboard.

    I also found out that "freeze the balls off a brass monkey" has a nautical origin as well, but I'm still looking that up...

    November 30, 2007

  • Weird. I was just a minute ago reading that scuttlebutt was originally a nautical term, and I started thinking, "Hmm. A Wordie list...."

    November 30, 2007

  • Wait! Scuttlebutt doesn't list any kind of nautical meaning. Post, reesetee! Post!

    November 30, 2007

  • Oh! Well, you see....

    *getting comfortable, pushing spectacles farther down on nose*

    Oh, hell; I'll let World Wide Words explain it. :-)

    November 30, 2007