Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for August 6, 2019 is:
totem • TOH-tum • noun
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
The Delaware Indians of eastern North America belonged to one of three groups whose totems were the turkey, the turtle, and the wolf.
“A totem reached the end of its life with a unifying ceremony after 65 years standing the grounds of Thunderbird Park. Members of First Nations … spoke to the significance of the Kwakwaka’wakw house post replica, which was built in 1954…. — Nicole Crescenzi, Victoria News, 31 May 2019
Did you know?
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 (meaning “his totem”), which became our word totem. In its most specific sense, totem refers to an emblematic depiction of an animal or plant that gives a family or clan its name and that often serves as a reminder of its ancestry. The term is also used broadly for any person or thing 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.