take aback, to

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take aback

Surprise, shock, as in He was taken aback by her caustic remark. This idiom comes from nautical terminology of the mid-1700s, when be taken aback referred to the stalling of a ship caused by a wind shift that made the sails lay back against the masts. Its figurative use was first recorded in 1829.
See also: aback, take
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

take aback, to

To surprise or discomfit. This term originally was nautical, describing sails that press against the mast and therefore suddenly impede a vessel’s progress. It was used figuratively from the early nineteenth century on. Dickens used it in his American Notes (1842): “I don’t think I was ever so taken aback in all my life.” It is heard less often today but has not died out.
See also: take
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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