[toh-tuh m]


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 formsto·tem·ic [toh-tem-ik] /toʊˈtɛm ɪk/, adjectiveto·tem·i·cal·ly, adverbsub·to·tem, nounsub·to·tem·ic, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for totemic

Contemporary Examples of totemic

  • Diversity is largely accepted and encouraged, but lacks the totemic significance assigned to it by boomer activists.

  • Maybe it's the sheer volume of scandals on the landscape today, robbing any one of its totemic power to shock and dismay voters.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Death of the Sex Scandal

    Louise Roug Bokkenheuser

    September 29, 2010

  • Offscreen, he is the Nascar set's totemic badass, the God-fearing patriot who walks the walk.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Chuck Norris Turns 70

    Sean Macaulay

    December 6, 2009

  • MOCA traditionally involves a totemic artist with these events.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Lady Gaga and the Bolshoi?

    Anthony Haden-Guest

    November 11, 2009

Historical Examples of totemic

British Dictionary definitions for totemic



(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 Formstotemic (təʊˈtɛmɪk), adjectivetotemically, adverb

Word Origin for totem

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

Word Origin and History for totemic



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

totemic in Culture


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 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.

Idioms and Phrases with totemic


see low man on the totem pole.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.