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[uh-bak] /əˈbæk/
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 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for aback
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • An order well understood to mean, fill the main-topsail, after it has been aback, or the ship hove-to.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • When he tried to come nearer her she laughed and thrust him aback.

    Privy Seal Ford Madox Ford
  • A word used in veering for aback, alluding to the situation of the head-yards in paying off.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • The midshipman went to sleep, and when he awoke he found the ship all aback.

    A Voyage round the World W.H.G. Kingston
  • This discovery knocked us all aback, and we were quite at a loss how to proceed.

    Ned Myers James Fenimore Cooper
  • “Throw it all aback,” he cut in as at last he caught my idea.

    A Middy in Command Harry Collingwood
  • And there she saw a thing that struck her so aback with amazement, that every timid sense was mute.

    Cripps, the Carrier R. D. (Richard Doddridge) Blackmore
  • Loose and set the topsail and topgallant-sail, and throw them aback!

    The Rover's Secret Harry Collingwood
  • His reply took me aback, until his sinister face broadened into a smile.

    The Golden Face William Le Queux
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
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
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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
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Idioms and Phrases with aback


see: take aback
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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