TAKEN ABACK ORIGIN
Wednesday October 27th, 2010
When one is startled or surprised by a sudden turn of events we are said to be taken aback. It is probably the only use of the work ‘aback’ there is today. Sailors had a habit of joining words during the 15th century hence we ended up with ‘around’ and ‘a part’ etc. Originally aback referred to when a ship’s sails were blown flat against the masts and spars. Thus when the wind changed suddenly and a ship was facing unexpectedly into it, the vessels was said to be ‘taken aback’.
The figurative meaning first emerged in the early to mid 19th century, for instance, in this article from The Times printed in March 1831: 'Whigs, Tories, and Radicals, were all taken aback with astonishment, that the Ministers had not come forward with some moderate plan of reform.'