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See more synonyms for figurehead on Thesaurus.com
  1. 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.
  2. Nautical. a carved full-length figure or bust built into the bow of a sailing ship.
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Origin of figurehead

First recorded in 1755–65; figure + head
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for figurehead

cipher, puppet, nonentity, front, nothing, token, mouthpiece

Examples from the Web for figurehead

Contemporary Examples of figurehead

Historical Examples of figurehead

  • A carver in the neighborhood engaged to make the figurehead.

    Tanglewood Tales

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Got a figurehead for the porch too, and I'll have an anchor for the gate before I'm done.

    The Manxman

    Hall Caine

  • This gives an air of unreality, a figurehead and type character.

  • Is she merely a figurehead to take orders from the visiting physician?

    Dear Enemy

    Jean Webster

  • Some of them had white bands encircling the throat of this figurehead.

British Dictionary definitions for figurehead


  1. a person nominally having a prominent position, but no real authority
  2. a carved bust or full-length figure at the upper end of the stems of some sailing vessels
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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

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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper