from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. surprised, shocked
  • adj. said of a ship, when the wind, suddenly changing, forces the sails aft against the mast
  • v. Past participle of take aback


Sorry, no etymologies found.


  • “Yes, I was,” said Mr. Rigget, considerably taken aback by this mercurial change in the magnificent-looking old gentleman in front of him.

    Flowers for the Judge

  • When the party reached Harrisburg Lincoln asked his son Robert where the message was, and was taken aback by his son's confession that in the excitement caused by the enthusiastic reception he believed he had let a waiter have the gripsack.

    The Every-day Life of Abraham Lincoln

  • Muhammed Iqbal was gay at returning to his own place, and had me airing my halting Pushtu on those we spoke to; they seemed taken aback to find an English officer who had their own tongue, however crudely, and were friendly enough.


  • They rounded a corner, and Rand was taken aback by the sight of a score of Seanchan soldiers standing guard in front of a big house on one side of the street — and by the sight of two women in lightning-marked dresses talking on the doorsteps of another across from it.

    The Great Hunt

  • I was a little taken aback at her cold-bloodedness: Was this the same girl who had wept over the death of a hamster?

    Dreaming in French

  • The D.D.I. seemed taken aback by the elaboration of vowel and consonant.

    More Work for the Undertaker

  • Chabot was so taken aback that for a moment he sat still, without answering it, at last muttered, staring at Maigret:

    Maigret Afraid

  • Lu Manli, who waited years to get a simple wristwatch, is taken aback by the very idea that she was deprived.


  • It took a while to see that perhaps he was a bit taken aback by this young woman who had suddenly emerged from gangly, precocious, adolescent Mary Russell.

    The Beekeeper's Apprentice

  • The colonel seemed taken aback by my brusque manners, so after slapping my empty plate down onto a nearby tray, I made an effort to smile ingratiatingly at him before urging him to lead me to the stables.

    A Letter of Mary


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  • 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

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

    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

  • 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