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A sentence is written like this,

In this work of Pankaj Mishra, we are taken back to 18th century Europe where ...

In this work of Pankaj Mishra, we are taken aback to the 18th century Europe where ...

I understand that first one is more natural because 'taken aback' usually points to 'surprise' but the word 'aback' also mean backward. Thus the second construct should be equally natural, at least in this context. Isn't it?

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closed as general reference by jwpat7, Matt E. Эллен, Mahnax, MετάEd, tchrist Aug 29 '12 at 11:55

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Where have you seen aback used or stated to mean backward? That is new to me. – Rachel Aug 27 '12 at 0:12
"We were taken aback to (a time)..." is not standard English. It sounds like a mixed up attempt at "... taken back...". "(I was) taken aback." means "I was surprised". – Mitch Aug 27 '12 at 0:45
@Rachel From free-online English dictionary, Etymology: based on the literal meaning of aback (backward), which is not used in modern English. I have added the link to my original post. – Dilawar Aug 27 '12 at 1:00
@Dilawar: I am not 100% sure of their practices, but I suspect that "which is not used in modern English" is supposed to mean that this usage is archaic, i.e., it used to but doesn't have that meaning anymore. If you don't have access to OED, I think Merriam-Webster is good about making these things clear. Note the "archaic" tag in the definition there. – Rachel Aug 27 '12 at 1:15
Your error is natural, but it is an instance of the "etymological fallacy" -- the mistaken idea that what a word once meant somehow governs what it means now. – StoneyB Aug 27 '12 at 1:16
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The second sentence is incorrect. As you point out, "taken aback" means of a person that s/he has been surprised. It might be correct to say something like:

In this work of Pankaj Mishra, we are taken aback when we learn that in 18th century Europe, cows could fly.

But it would probably be more natural, even there, to use the verb "surprised."

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And I assume we're not learning about flying cows -- i.e. that what we learn is not a surprise. – JAM Aug 26 '12 at 23:43
+1 for the example! (I was taken aback myself! :) – FumbleFingers Aug 26 '12 at 23:52
1 LOL for example. – Dilawar Aug 27 '12 at 1:03

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