- (idiomatic, transitive) To surprise or shock; to discomfit.
- I was rather taken aback by his angry reply.
- The bad news took us aback.
1807, William Cobbett, Cobbett's Political Register, Vol. XI., London: Cox and Baylis, page 121:
- I was, at first, a little taken aback and astounded at the bulk of the volume; but, I turned out early this morning, and with eager hope and expectation set doggedly to work in search of the promised consolation.
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.
1998, Penelope Fitzgerald, The Beginning of Spring, Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, page 156:
- Frank was taken aback when Lisa told him that she also needed forgiveness from him, for actions, for words, and for unspoken thoughts.
2000, Rupert Thomson, Soft!, page 292:
- In a way, he was taken aback by the absence of discouragement.
2000, Tanith Lee, White as Snow, New York: Tom Doherty Associates, page 105:
- She was not taken aback to find he lived in a ramshackle log hut among the trees.
2001, Anna Gilbert, A Morning in Eden, New York: St. Martin's Press, page 9:
- She was a little taken aback to find the front door of heavy oak unlocked.
2002, Russell Miller, Behind the Lines: The Oral History of Special Operations in World War II, New York: St. Martin's Press, page 178:
- Zervas was rather taken aback to learn that Ares Veloutiotes, the communist leader, was on his way to the village because there was no friendship between them.
2008, Denis Noble, The Music of Life: Biology beyond genes, page 123:
- The physiologist is taken aback.
- 2014, Steve Rose, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: a primate scream - first look review", The Guardian, 1 July 2014:
- They haven't seen humans for years, so when a small expedition, led by Jason Clarke, stumbles into apetopia, both sides are taken aback.
- (nautical, usually passive) Of a ship: to catch it with the sails aback suddenly.
- Most commonly found in the passive voice.
- Unlike most phrasal verbs, take aback in the active voice requires its object to immediately follow the verb. *The bad news took aback us is ungrammatical in contemporary English.
- The use of the work take implies that the action is happening unexpectedly or against one's will. The sails of a ship are said to be taken aback by a change in the relative direction of the wind, but they are laid aback purposely by the crew. Likewise, someone may say he was taken aback when surprised.
to surprise or shock