Monday, February 06, 2012


Back in the 70s I met a Russian woman--young, cheerful, smart, outgoing, also a total true believer.  I often wonder what became of her, and can only hope that she didn't wind up among the platoons of 16-stone babushkas who sold Mars bars outside Moscow subway stations in the crash of the 90s.

But anyway, she liked to talk about Russian history.  And it seems that every time, she found some reason to say (I wish I could imitate her Natasha Nogoodnik accent)  "Vhen Ve Vher Under Mong-ol-Tat-ar Yoke."  I was pretty shaky on what she was even talking about at that point; now, I guess I understand that she was adverting to the time in the 13th Century when the Golden Horde showed up and made cavalry stew out of the Kievan Rus (though I'm still a little unclear as to how exactly the Russians define the end of it).

Anyway it only just this weekend that it struck me: we (heh!) Anglo-Saxons use the same device when we speak of "The Norman Yoke"--the "foreign" hegemony that arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066. Wiki says:

The idea of the Norman Yoke characterized the nobility and gentry of England as the descendants of foreign usurpers who had destroyed a Saxon golden age. Such a reading was an extremely powerful myth for the poor and excluded classes of England. .... "Seeing the common people of England by joynt consent of person and purse have caste out Charles our Norman oppressour, wee have by this victory recovered ourselves from under his Norman yoake." wrote [Gerrard] Winstanley on behalf of the Diggers, in December 1649.
 Link.   But once you detach yourself, you start seeing this stuff everywhere; "peoples" who define themselves in terms of their oppressor.  Think "Babylonian captivity."  Hell, think every third-world country ever colonized by a European (can we imagine an India without the British Raj?).   And where would Fidel Castro have been all these years without the Americans to howl at, just 90 miles off his shore?

Aside from the general principle of "defined by our oppressor," are there other examples of the specific "yoke" metaphor?

Fn:   I want full credit for having written a headline which, however spare, at least avoids all puns on "Yoke."  


Ken Houghton said...

"Fn: I want full credit for having written a headline which, however spare, at least avoids all puns on "Yoke." "

Sure. As long as you understand we assumed you were riffing on "Yikes!"

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

I've seen "yoke" used as a metaphor for work. "Although he is over seventy years old and has a large pension coming to him, he still prefers to be tied to the yoke." I've also seen it used as a metaphor for religious faith. Perhaps marriage? (I sometimes hear puns on "altar" and "halter.")