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  1. toward the back.
  2. Nautical. so that the wind presses against the forward side of the sail or sails.
adjective Nautical.
  1. (of a sail) positioned so that the wind presses against the forward side.
  2. (of a yard) positioned so that its sail is laid aback.
  1. taken aback, surprised and disconcerted: I was taken aback by his harsh criticism.

Origin of aback

before 1000; Middle English abak, Old English on bæc to the rear. See a-1 on, back1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for aback

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • This discovery knocked us all aback, and we were quite at a loss how to proceed.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • Well, when you consider that, can you wonder I was set all aback?

    Cap'n Warren's Wards

    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • It took her aback by its directness, and for a moment left her without an answer.

    The Snare

    Rafael Sabatini

  • I certainly took him aback, and he almost dropped the glass.

    Two Sides of the Face

    Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch

  • Sarah did not answer for a minute, for the question took her aback; then she laughed.

British Dictionary definitions for aback


  1. taken aback
    1. startled or disconcerted
    2. nautical(of a vessel or sail) having the wind against the forward side so as to prevent forward motion
  2. rare towards the back; backwards

Word Origin

Old English on bæc to the back
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for aback


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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with aback


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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