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early 13c., "visible form or appearance of a person," from Old French figure (10c.) "shape, body, form, figure; symbol, allegory," from Latin figura "a shape, form, figure," from PIE *dheigh- "to form, build" (see dough); originally in English with meaning "numeral," but sense of "form, likeness" is almost as old (mid-13c.).
Philosophical and scientific senses are from Latin figura being used to translate Greek skhema. The rhetorical use of figure dates to late 14c.; hence figure of speech (1824). Figure eight as a shape was originally figure of eight (c.1600).
late 14c., "to represent" (in a picture); see figure (n.). Meaning "to shape into" is early 15c.; "to picture in the mind" is from c.1600; "to make an appearance" is c.1600. Meaning "work out a sum" is from 1833, American English. Related: Figured; figuring.
figure fig·ure (fĭg'yər)
A form or shape, as of the human body.
A person representing the essential aspects of a particular role.