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See also: a-back and A-back



Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English abak, from Old English onbæc, equivalent to a- (towards) +‎ back. Compare West Frisian tebek (aback, adverb, literally to/at back), Swedish tillbaka (idem.).


aback (not comparable)

  1. (archaic) Towards the back or rear; backwards. [First attested prior to 1150.][1]
    • 1815, David Laurie, A Treatise on Finance, under which, the General Interests of the British Empire are Illustrated, Glasgow: Chapman, page 322:
      The mild, though licentious reign, of Louis the Sixteenth, threw France far aback, in her ambitious career; but it gave birth to that revolution, wherein, her warlike propensities and territorial resources were unfolded with tenfold efficacy.
    • 1889, William Morris, A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and All the Kindreds of the Mark, London: Reeves & Turner, page 31:
      Then stopped, and bounded aback, and away as if in fear, / That I saw her no more; then I wondered though sitting close anear / Was a she-wolf great and grisly.
  2. (archaic) In the rear; a distance behind. [First attested prior to 1150.][1]
    • 1840, “Proceedings of an Inquiry held at plantation Reliance, in the county of Essequibo”, in Papers Relative to the West Indies, 1841: British Guiana, London: H.M.S.O., published 1841, page 201:
      There are so many canes upon Reliance that the labourers could not cut those aback, as they prefer cutting those in front. The cane fields aback were in cultivation last year.
  3. By surprise; startled; dumbfounded. (see usage)
    • 1808, The Post-Captain: A View of Naval Society and Manners, 3rd edition, London: Thomas Tegg, page 165:
      I would rather board a hundred of the enemy's frigates, than steer my boat into a fleet of modest women, for a modest woman never fails to take me aback.
  4. (nautical) 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.][1]
    • 1757, Charles Fearne, The Trial of the Honourable Admiral John Byng, at a Court Martial, London: Manby, et al, page 89:
      Q. Was not the Trident at that time aback with one or more Top-sails? A. To the best of my Knowledge she had both Top-sails aback.
    • 1841, Benjamin J. Totten, Naval Text-book, Boston: Little & Brown, page 144:
      As the anchor fetches her up, she will swing head to wind, bringing the head sails aback.
    • 2001, Russell Drumm, The Barque of Saviors, Houghton Mifflin, page 91:
      Then the sails on the mainmast were backing and we started getting stern way. Eagle was caught aback.
Usage notes[edit]
  • (by surprise): Preceded by a form of the word take, see take aback.
Derived terms[edit]
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

See also[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From Latin abacus.


aback (plural abacks)

  1. (obsolete, Early Modern) An inscribed stone square.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Lesley Brown, editor-in-chief, William R. Trumble and Angus Stevenson, editors (2002), “aback”, in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th edition, Oxford, New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 2.



Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English abak, from Old English onbæc, equivalent to a- +‎ back.




  1. behind, in the rear
  2. away, aloof, off
  3. since, ago

Derived terms[edit]