totem pole


a pole or post carved and painted with totemic figures, erected by Indians of the northwest coast of North America, especially in front of their houses.
a hierarchical system: the bureaucratic totem pole.



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Origin of totem pole

First recorded in 1875–80 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

Example sentences from the Web for totem pole

  • I've got one decayed foreign title dangling to the totem-pole, and that's enough; that's got to satisfy the missus.

    Making Money|Owen Johnson
  • The idea of a totem-pole is something like a door-plate or a visiting card.

  • A totem-pole donated to the exposition by Yannate, a very old Thlinkit, was made by his own hands in honor of his mother.

    Alaska|Ella Higginson
  • It is the totem-pole, the Indian child will tell you with pride.

British Dictionary definitions for totem pole

totem pole


a pole carved or painted with totemic figures set up by certain North American Indians, esp those of the NW Pacific coast, within a village as a tribal symbol or, sometimes, in memory of a dead person
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

Cultural definitions for totem pole

totem pole

Among some Native Americans, a pole on which totems are carved. The totem pole usually stands in front of a house or shelter.

notes for totem pole

A totem pole is thought of figuratively as a symbol (see also symbol) of a hierarchy: “Where does she stand on the totem pole?”
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.