Flabbergast and taken aback, what is the difference?

  1. She was flabbergasted when the nurse came in and gave spinal injection.
  2. She was taken aback when the nurse came in and gave spinal injection.

As a N-NS, I understand them as the same tones used to express that someone is being surprised. Do they have any difference?


"Taken aback" is more a momentary thing, where for an instant one's brain seems to stop because the situation is so unexpected (like getting a spinal injection without prior warning!).

Being "flabbergasted" is usually longer in duration. The person is first taken aback, but the strangeness seems so big and spread-out that they can't "regain their balance" for awhile. Everything seems to be "at sixes and sevens", and they can't make sense of anything (such as why they're getting a spinal injection without prior warning!).

["Taken aback" is a term from the days of sail, when the wind might completely shift to blow from the front for a moment, which would cause the sails to fill the wrong way and the ship to be "taken aback", i.e. stopped abruptly, with an effect similar to a small earthquake.]


MW refers to "flabbergasted" as "too astounded to respond" and "taken aback" in my thesaurus is closer to startled and is not as strong. I'm not sure why getting a spinal tap would cause this reaction. Being told I was getting one might do it though.


You can use "be flabbergasted" and "be taken aback" interchangeably. However, the former is more informal.

  • 2
    More informal and more superlative, I'd say. – Cheezmeister Feb 17 '16 at 9:05

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