toward the back.
Nautical. so that the wind presses against the forward side of the sail or sails.

adjective Nautical.

(of a sail) positioned so that the wind presses against the forward side.
(of a yard) positioned so that its sail is laid aback.


    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. 2019

Related Words for aback

surprised, confused

Examples from the Web for aback

Contemporary Examples of aback

  • This has always put Arabs aback, made them vulnerable and eager to avoid uncalculated escalation.

    The Daily Beast logo
    The End Of Deterrence

    Nervana Mahmoud

    November 13, 2012

Historical Examples of aback

  • 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



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
rare towards the back; backwards

Word Origin for aback

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


see take aback.

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