I'm thinking of the way a lot of people (myself included) remember information out of a history book: You superficially understand that the information is true, but remembering it doesn't feel like understanding an actual part of reality, it feels like retaining an abstract piece of information. Like you know it's real, but you don't feel that it's real.

I suppose it's generally the kind of extremely shallow awareness you have of something if you've been told about its existence, but haven't observed or experienced it yourself.

  • 1
    disembodied history is a fairly common idiom.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Apr 30, 2017 at 2:52
  • 'Dissociate' is a verb that might work here, depending on the context.
    – badpanda
    Commented Apr 30, 2017 at 2:56
  • It would be helpful if you'd provide a sample sentence. People sometimes talk about events that they still need to "process"--they can't quite believe it or understand it--but that's not related to historical events, e.g., the Cold War.
    – Xanne
    Commented Apr 30, 2017 at 5:40
  • sometimes people use the words "fuzzy understanding" or "fuzzy memory" ..as I , I know Pine trees are conifers but I have a fuzzy understanding of where the definition of 'conifer' differs from the definition of 'deciduous'.
    – Tom22
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 0:46
  • You're talking about "book knowledge" or "abstract knowledge." For example, we are aware that the Franco-Prussian War and the Voyage of the Beagle happened, but we didn't observe or experience them ourselves. Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 3:09

1 Answer 1


The word you're looking for is


to have knowledge of, regardless of the level of understanding.

To perceive... to recognize... to identify... to distinguish... to be able to recall...


It's the deeper levels of understanding that have other vocab words: understand

To comprehend... to apprehend the meaning or import of... to grasp the idea of...


To grasp with the mind... to conceive fully or adequately... to understand... to lay hold of all the points of ~ and include them within the compass of a description or expression...


To apprehend or understand clearly or correctly... to recognize the significance or subtleties of...


To understand intuitively or by empathy...

Expressing the lack of those is as simple as appending a don't or can't.

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