Grok

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Grok (IPA /gɹɑk/ (GA) or /gɹɒk/ (RP), both rhyming with rock) is a verb that connotes knowledge greater than that which can be sensed by an outside observer. It is an understanding beyond empathy and intimacy. In grokking, one experiences the literal capabilities and frame of reference of the subject. The verb can be used both transitively and intransitively; in the transitive sense the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with", while in the intransitive sense it is defined as "to empathize or communicate sympathetically with; also, to experience enjoyment." The OED also specifies the alternate spelling "grock".

Robert A. Heinlein originally coined the term as part of a fictional Martian language in his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, where it literally means "drink" and figuratively refers to the merging of essence that encompasses the theme of the book. The term has become part of the English language, attested in dictionaries and used most by certain counterculture groups and in hacker culture.

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[edit] Pronunciation and part of speech

According to the Heinlein book, Martian words are "guttural" and "jarring." Martian speech is described as sounding "like a bullfrog fighting a cat." Accordingly, grok is generally pronounced as a guttural "gr" terminated by a sharp "k" with very little or no vowel sound (a narrow IPA transcription might be [ɡɹ̩kʰ]).

Both transitive and intransitive uses exist, but the latter is rare. Other forms of the word include "groks" (present third person singular), "grokked" (past participle) and "grokking" (present participle).

[edit] In Stranger in a Strange Land

The protagonist never tries to verbalize a full definition of grok, but demonstrates various instances and effects throughout the novel. A secondary, human character in the book defines the term as:

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because we are from Earth) as color means to a blind man.

Within the book, the statement of divine immanence verbalized between the main characters, "Thou Art God", is said to be derived from grok. On a more mundane level, the term was used while drinking water with the main character's water-brothers. Water being sacred on Mars, the main character was astounded when he saw Earth's oceans.

[edit] In counterculture

Tom Wolfe, in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, describes a character's thoughts during an acid trip: "He looks down, two bare legs, a torso rising up at him and like he is just noticing them for the first time... he has never seen any of this flesh before, this stranger. He groks over that...." Hippie guru Ram Dass, in Be Here Now, quotes a large passage from Stranger about the word. Numerous examples of its use in the late 1960s appear, including in Playboy Magazine, and the New Yorker.

The word is also used in passing in The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. According to Ed Sanders' book The Family, convicted murderer Charles Manson was a fan of Heinlein and Stranger and adopted many of the terms associated with both including "grok" and "thou art God".[1]

[edit] In science fiction

A popular t-shirt and bumper sticker slogan for Trekkies, seen as early as 1968, was I grok Spock (often showing the Star Trek character using the Vulcan salute). Other science fiction authors have borrowed the term over the years as an homage.

[edit] In hacker culture

Uses of the word in the decades after the 1960s are more concentrated in computer culture, such as a 1984 appearance in InfoWorld: "There isn't any software! Only different internal states of hardware. It's all hardware! It's a shame programmers don't grok that better.""

The Jargon File, which describes itself as a "Hacker's Dictionary," puts grok in a programming context:

When you claim to ‘grok’ some knowledge or technique, you are asserting that you have not merely learned it in a detached instrumental way but that it has become part of you, part of your identity. For example, to say that you “know” LISP is simply to assert that you can code in it if necessary — but to say you “grok” LISP is to claim that you have deeply entered the world-view and spirit of the language, with the implication that it has transformed your view of programming. Contrast zen, which is a similar supernal understanding experienced as a single brief flash.

The entry existed in the very earliest forms of the Jargon File, dating from the early 1980s. A typical tech usage from the Linux Bible, 2005 characterizes the Unix software development philosophy as "one that can make your life lot simpler once you grok the idea".

[edit] Mainstream usage

In their book The Fourth Turning, William Strauss and Neil Howe write of 1996 Presidential candidate Bob Dole as "not a person who could grok values in the now-dominant Boomer tongue".

Groklaw is a website with information on legal matters, usually of an IT nature.

[edit] See also

Look up Grok in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Ed Sanders (2002). The Family. Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN ISBN 1-56025-396-7.

[edit] External links

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