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Middle English yok, from Old English geoc; akin to Old High German joh yoke, Latin jugum, Greek zygon, Sanskrit yuga, Latin jungere to join

The word "yoke" is believed to derive from Proto-Indo-European *yugóm (yoke), from verb *yeug- (join, unite). This root has descendants in almost all known Indo-European languages including German Joch, Latin iugum, Ancient Greek ζυγόν (zygon), Sanskrit युग (yugá), Hittite (iúkan), Old Church Slavonic иго (igo), Lithuanian jungas, Old Irish cuing, Romanian jug, etc. (all meaning "yoke").


  • 1a : a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together
b : an arched device formerly laid on the neck of a defeated person
c : a frame fitted to a person's shoulders to carry a load in two equal portions
d : a bar by which the end of the tongue of a wagon or carriage is suspended from the collars of the harness
e (1) : a crosspiece on the head of a boat's rudder (2) : an airplane control operating the elevators and ailerons
f : a frame from which a bell is hung
g : a clamp or similar piece that embraces two parts to hold or unite them in position
  • 2: plural usually yoke : two animals yoked or worked together
  • 3a (1) : an oppressive agency (2) : servitude, bondage
b : tie, link; especially : marriage
  • 4: a fitted or shaped piece at the top of a skirt or at the shoulder of various garments


A yoke is a wooden beam which is used between a pair of oxen to allow them to pull a load (oxen almost always work in pairs). It can be used to help plow fields. There are several types, used in different cultures, and for different types of oxen. A pair of oxen is also called a yoke of oxen, and yoke is also used as a verb: "to yoke a pair of oxen".


With its of connotations of subservience, in ancient cultures it was traditional to force a defeated enemy to pass beneath a symbolic yoke of spears or swords. A remnant of this tradition is the saber arch seen at some military weddings.

The yoke is frequently used as a metaphor in the Old Testament, first used in Genesis 27:40 regarding Esau. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, his followers are told "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light". This is a metaphor for submitting to Jesus and being connected to him as with a yoke. (Gospel of Matthew 11:30)