Entry updated 9 April 2015. Tagged: Theme.
Item of sf Terminology coined in Robert A Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961; text restored 1991), which was rapidly adopted in Fan Language and by late-1960s counterculture writers, and became sufficiently widespread to be regarded as having entered the English language – as recorded in The Oxford English Dictionary (1989). In Heinlein's novel it is a verb imported from the language of Mars (see Linguistics), whose literal meaning "to drink" is almost invariably a metaphor for deep spiritual, empathic or intuitive understanding or enjoyment:
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 ...
Stranger in a Strange Land presents the Martian language as a tool with which reality may be grokked so thoroughly as to allow its manipulation through Psi Powers which automatically awaken in advanced students of Martian. As early as 1973 the term had penetrated the world of academia with the title of the SF in the Classroom text Grokking the Future: Science Fiction in the Classroom (1973) by Bernard C Hollister and Deane C Thompson. [DRL]
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