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mid-14c., "to reach for, feel around," possibly a metathesis of grapsen, from Old English *græpsan "to touch, feel," from Proto-Germanic *grap-, *grab- (cf. East Frisian grapsen "to grasp," Middle Dutch grapen "to seize, grasp," Old English grapian "to touch, feel, grope"), from PIE root *ghrebh- (see grab). Sense of "seize" first recorded mid-16c. Figurative use from c.1600; of intellectual matters from 1680s. Related: Grasped; grasping. The noun is from 1560s.