Posted: July 8, 2020
The speaker was saying how his wife would be last to be called back to work because she’s a recent hire, and that “she’s the last person on the totem pole”. This is a mashup of “low man on the totem pole” (person with the least amount of experience in a social or business setting) and “be the last (person) to (do something)” (very unlikely to do something). Regarding the phrase, “low man on the totem pole”, there is an interesting explanation found in the Free Dictionary:
The humorist H. Allen Smith used this phrase as the title of a book (1941) after the radio comedian Fred Allen had used the term to describe him in an introduction to an earlier book. The position on an actual totem pole bu the way, has no such signficiance. Nevertheless, the term caught on quickly enough to become a cliche.
A big thanks to Sam Edelmann who overheard this one and passed it on.
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