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Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
▪ Being surprised by opinion polls is like being taken aback by blue skies.
▪ Intel was taken aback by the intensity of public anger.
▪ The young major was momentarily taken aback by the sheer opulence of the room.
▪ The authorities were taken aback, and took the unprecedented step of cordoning off the painting.
▪ He was slightly taken aback by the sheer size of the girl.
▪ Hernandez seemed taken aback by the attention his proposed bonfire created.
▪ Henry, taken aback, replied weakly that he had not had carnal relations with Anne's mother.
▪ Lucenzo looked up as if he'd only just realised she'd slipped away, and seemed taken aback when he saw her.
▪ He seemed even more taken aback than I was, and this heartened me.
▪ He was momentarily a bit taken aback.
▪ Intel was taken aback by the intensity of public anger.
▪ She appeared taken aback, as if she had only just realised that the pair of them were not alone.
▪ The authorities were taken aback, and took the unprecedented step of cordoning off the painting.
▪ The singer is capable of delicacy, as well; the occasional pianissimo utterance takes you aback.
▪ They all looked suitably taken aback by his entrance, muttering disapproval whilst he insisted that Ockleton step outside.
▪ Though she did seem taken aback, come to think of it.
The Collaborative International Dictionary

Aback \A*back"\ ([.a]*b[a^]k"), adv. [Pref. a- + back; AS. on b[ae]c at, on, or toward the back. See Back.]

  1. Toward the back or rear; backward. ``Therewith aback she started.''

  2. Behind; in the rear.

  3. (Naut.) Backward against the mast; -- said of the sails when pressed by the wind. --Totten. To be taken aback.

    1. To be driven backward against the mast; -- said of the sails, also of the ship when the sails are thus driven.

    2. To be suddenly checked, baffled, or discomfited.


Aback \Ab"ack\ ([a^]b"ak), n. An abacus. [Obs.]
--B. Jonson.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

c.1200, from Old English on bæc "at or on the back;" see back (n.). Now surviving mainly in taken aback, originally a nautical expression in reference to a vessel's square sails when a sudden change of wind flattens them back against the masts and stops the forward motion of the ship (1754). The figurative sense is first recorded 1840.


Etymology 1 adv. 1 (context archaic English) Towards the back or rear; backwards. (First attested prior to 1150.)(R:SOED5: page=2) 2 (context archaic English) In the rear; a distance behind. (First attested prior to 1150.) 3 By surprise; startled; dumbfounded. 4 (context nautical English) Backward against the mast; said of the sails when pressed by the wind from the "wrong" (forward) side, or of a ship when its sails are set that way. (First attested in the late 17th century.) Etymology 2

n. (context obsolete English) An abacus.

  1. adv: having the wind against the forward side of the sails; "the ship came up into the wind with all yards aback"

  2. by surprise; "taken aback by the caustic remarks"


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Usage examples of "aback".

Tamir was taken aback by the two other men with Eshkol-Meir Amit, the head of Mossad, and Moshe Dayan, the minister of defense.

The attacking party looked rather taken aback for a moment as he followed her with his eyes, but sat down again and began to eat and laugh afresh, while everybody else kept a profound silence.

Instead of hauling hard up, as the race demanded and the Biter men expected, he spun the wheel to put her head to windward while his crew good, fast men despite their worn appearances -braced main and fore yards round at such a speed they went aback instantly, with a battery of explosive cracks.

The young blockhead seemed taken aback and in his turn bit his lips, but his evil genius made him, strike in again at dessert.

But, whenever their efforts are unexpectedly, and for themselves unfortunately successful, they are so taken aback that they lose the power of behaving themselves with even gigantesque propriety.

Capsucefalo, a little taken aback, said it cost him four hundred sequins.

Nurse Callan taken aback in the hallway cannot stay them nor smiling surgeon coming downstairs with news of placentation ended, a full pound if a milligramme.

Her bows swung clear swiftly, her sails filled and she bore away, leaving the galleon wallowing, her flapping sails taken all aback, making ungainly sternway.

The wind from the explosion roared over the frigate and, for a moment, her sails were taken aback and she began to lose steerage way.

He was taken aback by the sudden frenzy that greeted his simple invitation, and for the rest of the morning it was all he could do to keep up as garage salers came and went, most not buying anything, some picking up a few items, several trying to bargain him down from the marked price.

Vini was taken aback by the effects of her own vehemence and was about to apologize when Sora suddenly came out of her shell.

Lost in the unexpected warmth of the hug that Garth gave her as he opened the door, Claudia was too taken aback to do a thing other than simply let him hold her and be glad that he was doing so, be grateful to him not just for his human warmth but for his instinctive and correct reading of her mood, her fragility and uncertainty, her vulnerability.

She had been wrong about his feelings before and had been taken aback when she tried to comfort or reassure him, only to find he felt no need for it, and was annoyed by her attempt.

Thiodolf held aback and led the midmost company, as his wont was, and the more part of the Wolfings were with him.

And ever the Witches were put aback and lost much ground, yet ever the Lord Corund by his great valiance and noble heart recomforted his folk, so that they gave back very slowly, most bloodily disputing the ground foot by foot to the bridge-gate, that they also might win in again, so many as might.