I think I'm mixing up "aghast" with "abash" in "to be taken abashed". But I think I've heard this construction once. For example, is the following sentence correct? "The government was taken abashed by the usurpers". Even if it is somewhat unusual, is it correct nevertheless?

Thanks for clearing up any confusions of mine!

  • 6
    Are you thinking of "To be taken aback?" Apr 7, 2017 at 3:06
  • @RaceYouAnytime Thanks! I forgot that one, maybe it's the right one, but my poor memory thought that I had heard the phrase with "abash" in it
    – flen
    Apr 7, 2017 at 3:09
  • 3
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the OP was really thinking of taken aback.
    – Drew
    Apr 7, 2017 at 3:14
  • @Drew OK, but before you do this, can you confirm that "taken abashed" is incorrect? I mean, that it cannot be used correctly
    – flen
    Apr 7, 2017 at 3:20
  • "Taken abashed" may not be inherently or prescriptively "incorrect," but it's not a common phrase or idiom in the English language. Googling the phrase (both words in quotes) only gives 316 results, and perusing them, they all look like mistakes, mondegreens, spoonerisms, or poetry. (Those are all real things.) Apr 7, 2017 at 3:57

2 Answers 2


"Taken abashed" definitely sounds wrong to me. If I heard that I'd assume the speaker meant "Taken aback."

See this explanation of "aback"

'Aback' means in a backward direction - toward the rear. It is a word that has fallen almost into disuse, apart from in the phrase 'taken aback'. Originally 'aback' was two words: 'a' and 'back', but these became merged into a single word in the 15th century. The word 'around' and the now archaic 'adown' were formed in the same way.

'Taken aback' is an allusion to something that is startling enough to make us jump back in surprise. The first to be 'taken aback' were not people though but ships. The sails of a ship are said to be 'aback' when the wind blows them flat against the masts and spars that support them. A use of this was recorded in the London Gazette in 1697:

"I braced my main topsails aback."

taken abackIf the wind were to turn suddenly so that a sailing ship was facing unexpectedly into the wind, the ship was said to be 'taken aback'. An early example of that in print comes from an author called Eeles in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1754:

"If they luff up, they will be taken aback, and run the hazard of being dismasted."

Note: 'to luff' is to bring the head of a ship nearer to the wind.

The figurative use of the phrase, meaning surprised rather than physically pushed back, came in the 19th century. It appeared in The Times 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."

Charles Dickens also used it in his American Notes in 1842:

"I don't think I was ever so taken aback in all my life."

  • Thank you, Melanie! I will mark this as the answer. But, out of curiosity, how would you interpret the example phrase I used? "The government was taken abashed by the usurpers". Would this phrase mean anything to you?
    – flen
    Apr 7, 2017 at 3:59

abashed adj

feeling or caused to feel uneasy and self-conscious


“felt abashed at the extravagant praise”

If you feel abashed, you're embarrassed and a little uneasy.

People feel abashed when they're caught in a lie, or make a mistake, or suddenly feel self-conscious for some reason. Feeling abashed isn't quite as painful as feeling ashamed, but it's close.

When you're abashed, you're not feeling confident or strong: you're a little shaken up and taken aback. You feel embarrassed or chagrined. This is a word for a self-conscious, uneasy feeling––think caught with your hand in the cookie jar or your drinking out of the milk carton in the middle of the night.

Source: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/abashed

  • Thank you for the thorough explanation of "abashed"! Do you think it's possible to use it together with "taken", so as something to be "taken abashed"?
    – flen
    Apr 7, 2017 at 3:11
  • How will you use it in a sentence? I don't think it is necessary to use it it with taken. But it depends mate!
    – Fawkes
    Apr 7, 2017 at 3:22
  • The phrase I came up with, although highly unusual, is it correct in terms of syntax and does it convey meaning? "The government was taken abashed by the usurpers". Would this mean "The government was taken,and it was abashed by the usurpers" or "The government was taken in a manner that made it abashed"? Or would it mean nothing at all? Thanks again!
    – flen
    Apr 7, 2017 at 3:25
  • Look at the sample I gave: felt abashed at the extravagant praise. It has a verb(past) + abashed. So it think that would be acceptable! No Problem mate!
    – Fawkes
    Apr 7, 2017 at 3:30
  • Excellent! Thank you, but how would you interpret the sentence I wrote? Or is it simply bad English?
    – flen
    Apr 7, 2017 at 3:31

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