GRE Vocab in “The Shakespearean Hokey Pokey”: A Wilde Release From Heaven’s Yoke


The following, by Jeff Brechlin, is the winning entry from a Washington Post Style Invitational contest that asked readers to submit “instructions” for something in the style of a famous person.

Here is Shakespeare’s Hokey Pokey.

Hokey Pokey

For the benefit of our international students, the “Hokey Pokey” is a silly dance for children that goes something like this:

You put your [right leg] in,
You put your [right leg] out;
You put your [right leg] in,
And you shake it all about.
You do the hokey pokey,
And you turn yourself around.
That’s what it’s all about!

A different part of the body is referenced in each verse (so, the song can go on for kind of a long time).

ShakespeareThe Shakespearean version contains some antiquated words that wouldn’t appear on the GRE (“anon” means soon, quickly), but also some very excellent GRE words:

Lithe – bending readily; pliant; limber; supple; flexible: the lithe body of a ballerina.

Wanton – Done, shown, used, etc., maliciously or unjustifiably (a wanton attack; wanton cruelty); without regard for what is right, just, humane, etc.; careless; reckless; sexually lawless or unrestrained (wanton lust); extravagantly or excessively luxurious (Kanye West’s Tweets about how fur pillows are actually hard to sleep on might indicate a wanton lifestyle). Basically, wanton can mean lacking restraint in a number of ways.

Yoke – a device for joining together a pair of draft animals, especially oxen, usually consisting of a crosspiece with two bow-shaped pieces, each enclosing the head of an animal; a frame fitting the neck and shoulders of a person, for carrying a pair of buckets or the like, one at each end; an agency of oppression, subjection, servitude, etc.

Here’s a yoke pictured on Wikipedia:


So, as a metaphor, you could talk about the “yoke” of oppression. Some religious people cite a quote from the Bible about marriage referring to two people being “equally yoked.”

If sinistral looks familiar, well … it means “left.” The reason it looks familiar is because it is the root whence we get sinister, which means ominous, evil … or “left.” Were the Romans (the word is from Latin) biased against left-handed people? Why, yes. Very much so.

Dervishes are these guys (photo from Wikipedia):


A Dervish is a Sufi Muslim ascetic. Not all dervishes are “whirling dervishes” — the “whirling” comes from a ceremony intended to help followers reach religious ecstasy.

Verily is an old-fashioned word that no one says anymore, but its root should look familiar! Verily just means really, actually, from the root ver for truth. This root appears in common words like verify and in GRE-likely words such as veracious, verity, and verisimilar.

I hope this post has augmented your lucubration! Verily, I say, ’tis what it’s all about.

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