What Does the Expression “Bottom of the Totem Pole” Mean and Where Did the Idiom Come From?

First Nations tribes told their history through the elaborate carvings of creatures on tall totem poles.

But the idea that the bottom image on the totem pole was the least important is wrong.

It originated with comedian Fred Allen, who, in 1941, wrote,

“If humorist H. Allen Smith were an Indian he’d be low man on the totem pole.”

Smith later used the phrase as a book title, and the expression caught on.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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