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[fig-yer-hed] /ˈfɪg yərˌhɛd/
a person who is head of a group, company, etc., in title but actually has no real authority or responsibility:
Most modern kings and queens are figureheads.
Nautical. a carved full-length figure or bust built into the bow of a sailing ship.
Origin of figurehead
1755-65; figure + head Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for figurehead
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It was easy to see that I had never been shipmates with a figurehead for over twenty years.

    'Twixt Land & Sea Joseph Conrad
  • A carver in the neighborhood engaged to make the figurehead.

    Tanglewood Tales Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The present admirable disposition of our forces is yours, not mine; so far I have been no more than a figurehead.

    The Traitors E. Phillips (Edward Phillips) Oppenheim
  • Got a figurehead for the porch too, and I'll have an anchor for the gate before I'm done.

    The Manxman Hall Caine
  • Her stern was adorned with flowers, and in the arms of the figurehead was a large bouquet.

British Dictionary definitions for figurehead


a person nominally having a prominent position, but no real authority
a carved bust or full-length figure at the upper end of the stems of some sailing vessels
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for figurehead

1765, from figure (n.) + head (n.). Originally the ornament on the bow of a ship; sense of "leader without real authority" is first attested 1883.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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