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Coined by Robert A. Heinlein in his novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) in which the word is described as being from the word for “to drink” and, figuratively, “to drink in all available aspects of reality”, “to become one with the observed” in Heinlein’s fictitious Martian language. William Tenn later asked Heinlein if the term could have been inspired by the term "griggo", which featured in Tenn's 1949 "Venus and the Seven Sexes"; Heinlein "looked startled, then thought about it for a long time (and) shrugged, (saying) 'It's possible, very possible.'"[1]



grok (third-person singular simple present groks, present participle grokking, simple past and past participle grokked)

  1. (transitive, slang) To understand (something) intuitively.
  2. To know (something) without having to think intellectually (such as knowing the number of objects in a collection without needing to count them: see subitize).
    • 1961, Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, page 107:
      I do not grok all fullness of what I read. In the history written by Master William Shakespeare I found myself full of happiness at the death of Romeo. Then I read on and learned that he had discorporated too soon – or so I thought I grokked. Why?
    • 1968, Wolfe, Tom, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, →ISBN:
      Grok―and then it's clear, without anybody having to say it.
    • 2008 December, Leslie Anthony, “Running from Babylon”, in Skiing, volume 61, number 4, page 116:
      He freely plucks notions and verbiage from science fiction to describe everything from mountain-related undertakings to political subterfuge – like "grok", a term from Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, to denote intuitive understanding.
  3. (transitive, slang) To fully and completely understand something in all of its details and intricacies.
    I finally grok Perl.
    I find it exceedingly doubtful that any person groks quantum mechanics.
    • 2008 August, Stanley Bing, “New Help for Hodads”, in Fortune, volume 158, number 3, page 152:
      Today we take a few moments to help you grok some of the ways that victims of TU can up their hipness – if we may use that term without being considered old school.

Usage notes[edit]

Grok is used mainly by the geek subculture, though it was heavily used by the counterculture of the 1960s, as evidenced by its repeated appearance in Tom Wolfe's “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”



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  1. ^ Afterword to "Venus and the Seven Sexes", as published in Immodest Proposals: the Complete Science Fiction of William Tenn (page 153), published 2001 by NESFA Press

Further reading[edit]