World Wide Words logo

Grok

Pronounced /ɡrɒk/Help with IPA

We must look to Robert Anson Heinlein for the origins of this word, which he invented for his science-fantasy book Stranger in a Strange Land in 1961. In this, Valentine Michael Smith, a human being raised on Mars, returns to Earth with psi powers given him by the Martians and is transformed into a messiah.

Grok is a word borrowed from Martian (and you won’t see that written very often) in which it literally meant to drink. However, in its figurative sense, to grok is to gain an instant deep spiritual understanding of something or to establish a rapport with somebody.

The book became a cult classic despite its deeply flawed nature (Heinlein remarked self-deprecatingly about it that it was incredible what some people would do for money; it was originally published in a brutally edited form and became available as originally written only in 1990).

The term went into the language, at first among countercultural types in California and among SF fans (there used to be lapel buttons around with the message “I grok Spock”), but was eventually taken up by computer geeks, among whom it has largely remained.

Page created 21 Jul. 2001
Last updated 29 Dec. 2005

Support World Wide Words.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.


Buy anything from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you.

Buy from Amazon UK Buy from Amazon USA

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-gro1.htm
Last modified: 29 December 2005.