Verb > Yoke

Verb – Yoke

This word comes from Old English.

Strictly speaking, a yoke is a device that fastens animals together so they can do work.

And loosely speaking, a yoke is something that forces you down, or forces you to stay attached to something or someone else. In other words, a yoke is a restraint or a burden.


Part of speech:
Often a verb, the transitive kind: “they yoked these together,” “he’s yoked to his job,” “she yoked herself to this tacky stage name and now regrets it.”

Also a noun, the countable kind: “they threw off the yoke of oppression,” “these rules place a heavy yoke on us.”

Other forms:
Here are some common ones: “yoked,” “yoking,” “yokes.”

We’ve also got “yokeable,” “yokeless,” “yokewise” (meaning horizontally, often over both shoulders), and, for things or people who get yoked together: “yokemates” or “yokefellows.” Fun, right? All are instantly understandable to your listeners, so enjoy them.

How to use it:
Thanks to its origin on the farm, “yoke” lends that simple, rustic, sometimes crude tone to the abstract restraints and burdens you’re describing.

Yoke” tends to be negative in tone, suggesting hard work, forced labor, or at least, permanent and involuntary connection.

Talk about the yoke of something: the yoke of debt, of contracts, of sanctions, of depression, of tyranny or oppression, of colonialism, of corruption, of dog ownership, of primary responsibility for your aging parents, etc.

And, talk about a yoke falling on people, settling on people, or being placed on people–or about people working or struggling under a yoke. Here’s the Economist: “in the south, where (Saddam’s) yoke fell heaviest.”

And, talk about things, people, and ideas escaping a yoke, throwing off a yoke, liberating others from a yoke, etc.

You can also just refer to something as “the yoke.” “He was sick of that demanding job, so he threw off the yoke.”

Finally, you can talk about people, statements, and events that yoke certain things together, or yoke one thing to another, often in people’s memories or in the public mind. Here’s the New Yorker: “Disney’s Fantasia yoked animation to music.”

“The idea of liberating Americans from the yoke of car ownership undergirds much of Lyft’s rhetoric around product development.”
— Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge, 16 October 2018

“Most uniformed positions allow the wearers to have a separate life. Peace officers and firefighters, for instance…have barbecues for neighbors and coach their children in sports. But to be a scythe means you are a scythe every hour of every day. It defines you to the core of your being, and only in dreams is one free of the yoke.”
— Neal Shusterman, Scythe, 2016