totem

play
noun to·tem \ ˈtō-təm \

Definition of totem

1 a :an object (such as an animal or plant) serving as the emblem of a family or clan and often as a reminder of its ancestry; also :a usually carved or painted representation of such an object
b :a family or clan identified by a common totemic object
2 :one that serves as an emblem or revered symbol

totem was our Word of the Day on 06/07/2014. Hear the podcast!

Examples of totem in a Sentence

  1. Private jets are a totem of success among extremely wealthy people.

  2. the bald eagle, that universally recognized totem of our country

Recent Examples of totem from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'totem.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

totem Has Roots in an Algonquian Language

Totem comes to us from Ojibwa, an Algonquian language spoken by an American Indian people from the regions around Lake Superior. The most basic form of the word in Ojibwa is believed to be "ote," but 18th-century English speakers encountered it as "ototeman" ("his totem"), which became our word totem. In its most specific sense, "totem" refers to to an emblematic depiction of something (such as an animal, plant, or supernatural being) gives a family or tribe its name and that often serves as a reminder of its ancestry. The term is also used broadly for any thing or person having particular emblematic or symbolic importance. The related adjective "totemic" describes something that serves as a totem, that depicts totems ("totemic basketry," for example), or that has the nature of a totem.

Origin and Etymology of totem

Ojibwa oto·te·man his totem

Other Heraldry Terms



TOTEM Defined for English Language Learners

totem

play
noun

Definition of totem for English Language Learners

  • : something (such as an animal or plant) that is the symbol for a family, tribe, etc., especially among Native Americans

  • : a usually carved or painted figure that represents such a symbol

  • : a person or thing that represents an idea


TOTEM Defined for Kids

totem

play
noun to·tem \ ˈtō-təm \

Definition of totem for Students

1 :an object (as an animal or plant) serving as the emblem of a family or clan
2 :a carving or picture representing such an object


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