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[toh-tuh m] /ˈtoʊ təm/
a natural object or an animate being, as an animal or bird, assumed as the emblem of a clan, family, or group.
an object or natural phenomenon with which a family or sib considers itself closely related.
a representation of such an object serving as the distinctive mark of the clan or group.
anything serving as a distinctive, often venerated, emblem or symbol.
Origin of totem
1750-60, Americanism; < Ojibwa ninto·te·m my totem, oto·te·man his totem (probably orig. my clan-village-mate, derivative of stem o·te·- dwell in or as a village; compare o·te·na village)
Related forms
[toh-tem-ik] /toʊˈtɛm ɪk/ (Show IPA),
totemically, adverb
subtotem, noun
subtotemic, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for totem
  • The short answer is: if you are low on the totem pole the boss has the power so you have to do what he/she wants.
  • If that was true then, the bottom line is on top of the totem pole now.
  • The other problem with these situations is there is little recourse for people low down the totem pole.
  • But development of computing comes much lower on the totem pole.
  • The dedication and raising of a totem pole is accompanied by a great potlatch, a public feast often involving lavish gift giving.
  • They are truly the lowest people on the academic totem pole.
  • The low people on the totem pole are the musicians, whose professional lives are dictated to from above.
  • Two eight-and-a-half-foot-tall totem poles have been stolen from the backyard of an artist who specializes in wood carvings.
  • These are sensible ideas, but radical in a country where energy is still a nationalist totem.
  • The museum also had a ten-meter long canoe which you could touch, along with drums you could play and many totem poles.
British Dictionary definitions for totem


(in some societies, esp among North American Indians) an object, species of animal or plant, or natural phenomenon symbolizing a clan, family, etc, often having ritual associations
a representation of such an object
Derived Forms
totemic (təʊˈtɛmɪk) adjective
totemically, adverb
Word Origin
C18: from Ojibwa nintōtēm mark of my family
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for totem

animal or natural object considered as the emblem of a family or clan, 1760, from Algonquian (probably Ojibwa) odoodeman "his sibling kin, his group or family," hence, "his family mark;" also attested in French c.1600 in form aoutem among the Micmacs or other Indians of Nova Scotia. Totem pole is 1808, in reference to west coast Canadian Indians.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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totem in Culture

totem definition

An animal, plant, or other object in nature that has a special relationship to a person, family, or clan and serves as a sign for that person or group.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Idioms and Phrases with totem
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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