Grok [ˈɡɹɒk] / [ɡɹ̩kʰ] is a word I came across today in an email, and though I’ve encountered it before, I wasn’t sure what it meant. I thought it had something to do with programming as I’d only seen and heard it used in that context.

According to the Oxford Dictionaries online, grok is a verb meaning:

  1. to understand (something) intuitively or by empathy
  2. to establish a rapport

The Wiktionary definition of grok is as follows:

to grok (verb, transitive, slang)

  1. To have an intuitive understanding of; to know (something) without having to think (such as knowing the number of objects in a collection without needing to count them)
  2. To fully and completely understand something in all its details and intricacies.

The American author Robert A. Heinlein originally coined the word grok and used it in his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, in which it was a Martian word with a variety of meanings such as “water”, “to drink”, “life”, or “to live”, and also had a figurative meaning that is hard for Earth people to grasp [source].

When learning languages I aim to absorb them, to know as much about them as possible, and to speak them without having to think too much, or in other words to grok them. I’m not a big fan of this word, but it fits what I’m trying to do with languages.

Are there words with similar meanings in other languages?

7 thoughts on “Grok

  1. The Spanish verb conocer is pretty close. It’s one of two verbs that are both usually translated in to English as “to know”. Saber is used for knowing information, and conocer is to be familiar with a person or place.

  2. I’ve always liked this word, great to now know the source. (A novel I started but never finished, actually.)

    “You couldn’t grok my racecar but you dug the roadside blur.”
    Magnetic Field’s “Swinging London”, 1994.

  3. Thai has a similar discernment between to know from experience (รู้จัก rúu jàk) and to know information (รู้ rúu or the formal ทราบ sâap).

  4. Not exactly the same as grok in the empathic intuitiveness sense but we have the word ‘omniscience’ (all knowing) in English and also in French and English ‘savoir-faire’ which corresponds with English ‘know-how’ in the sense of innate knowledge of conducting oneself in any social situation (by breeding, education etc.)
    German has some abstract philosophical concepts terms relating to empathy which I wouldn’t pretend to understand which are:
    Einfühlung (feeling-into)
    Fremdwarhnemung (come to know the other or the stranger)
    Sich hineinverstzen (put oneself in another’s place).

  5. That’s one of those words that just doesn’t sound very nice, isn’t it? It’s things with sharp “g”s and “k”s that tend to be like that.


  6. There’s a (fantastic) relatively new snack food in Italy made out of baked Grana Padana (Parmesan) cheese that they’ve inexplicably decided to call Grok. (This is nothing new for Italians, who seem to enjoy adopting English words and then imputing them with random and perplexing meanings — “Tight” when they mean “tuxedo with tails,” for example.) I suppose someone in marketing might have read Heinlein translated … or perhaps the Italian IT guy in the snack food office spends a lot of time on English-speaking geek sites … who knows?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.