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Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
▪ He was never more than a mere figurehead in the negotiations.
▪ Norway's King Harald V is a figurehead.
▪ The president is essentially a figurehead: the real power lies with the prime minister.
▪ But despite the president s show of contrition, few analysts believe Mr Wahid is willing to become a figurehead just yet.
▪ More than 10 years on, Mr Thomson has once again assumed a figurehead role over Mrs Maginnis.
▪ Scarcely surprisingly, he became one of the figureheads of the revolution of 1820.
▪ Switzer is regarded as a figurehead who basically just stays out of the way.
▪ The figurehead President, Joseph Nerette, resigned and the post was left vacant.
▪ The Emperor was transformed from a divine figure into a constitutional figurehead.
▪ The manager is merely a figurehead.
▪ There had only been six, then; the five old Encyclopedistsall dead now-and himself, the young figurehead of a mayor.
The Collaborative International Dictionary

Figurehead \Fig"ure*head`\, n.

  1. (Naut.) The figure, statue, or bust, on the prow of a ship.

  2. A person who allows his name to be used to give standing to enterprises in which he has no responsible interest or duties; a nominal, but not real, head or chief.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

also figure-head, 1765, from figure (n.) + head (n.). The ornament on the projecting part of the head of a ship, immediately under the bowsprit; sense of "leader without real authority" is first attested 1868.\n\nYou may say that the king is still head of the State, and that this is a sufficient basis for loyal feeling; certainly, if he were really so, and not a mere ornamented figure-head on the ship of state. [James Hadley, "Essays Philological and Critical," London, 1873] \n


n. 1 (context nautical English) A carved figure on the prow of a sailing ship. 2 (context by extension English) Someone in a nominal position of leadership who has no actual power; a front or front man.

  1. n. a person used as a cover for some questionable activity [syn: front man, front, nominal head, straw man, strawman]

  2. figure on the bow of some sailing vessels

Figurehead (object)

A figurehead is a carved wooden decoration found at the prow of ships largely made between the 16th and 20th centuries.


In politics, a figurehead is a person who holds de jure (in name or by law) an important title or office (often supremely powerful), yet de facto (in reality) executes little actual power. The metaphor derives from the carved figurehead at the prow of a sailing ship. Commonly cited figureheads include Queen Elizabeth II, who is Queen of sixteen Commonwealth realms and head of the Commonwealth, but has no power over the nations in which she is not head of state and does not exercise power in her own realms on her own initiative. Other figureheads are the Emperor of Japan, the King of Sweden, or presidents in majority of parliamentary republics, such as the President of India, President of Israel, President of Bangladesh, President of Greece, President of Germany, President of Pakistan, and the President of the People's Republic of China (without CPC General Secretary and Chairman of CMC posts).

Usage examples of "figurehead".

Ophelia, like many figureheads of her day, had been arrayed upon the beakhead of the ship, rather than positioned below the bowsprit.

Besides a thorough holystone fore and aft, salt-stained sides were sluiced with fresh water, brightwork brought to a thorough gleam and the seadulled colors around the beakhead and figurehead touched up to their usual striking splendor.

His sister Belinda was a figurehead on a ship ofthe line, and the sailors fondled her bare breasts as they sat on the beakhead rails to relieve themselves.

Nate shook his head, looking as if he were fighting disbelief, but actually he was trying to shake the memory of his dream of driving a big cabin cruiser through the streets of Seattle with Amy displayed as the bikinied figurehead.

The frigate breasted the swell at exactly the same moment as Bucephalas and for the first time Harry could see her hull and figurehead.

Some were small, like the catboat, while others were enormous, with ivory sails and brass figureheads and gleaming hulls fitted with saw-toothed rams.

By this time Amy had mounted the prow like a sadomasochistic figurehead and Bart was thudding up and down the ladder loading the Zode with our war supplies.

He stalked away, muttering dire threats about turning mouthy figureheads into firewood.

Not only can the figureheads of these vessels move and speak, but they are also possessed of prodigious strength, enabling them to crush lesser vessels if once they grip them.

Next, in the Lycian plain of Xanthus, he beat off a band of Carian pirates led by one Cheimarrhus, a fiery and boastful warrior, who sailed in a ship adorned with a lion figurehead and a serpent stern.

In actuality, Styphon's Voice is typically a figurehead chosen to represent the interests of the Inner Circle of Archpriests, a closely connected group of thirty-six Archpriests which includes the highpriest of each Great Kingdom High Temples of Styphon.

Beyond lay the wreckage of the Arrow, driven ashore, its bow towering up so that the battered figurehead of the Indian warrior with his bowstrung arrow set to the cord now silently pointed up into the sky.

Not unlike that gigantic Chinese brigandess who half-killed me on the road to Nanking, but civilised, you understand, and willing to chat afterwards, in a frank, easy way which you'd not have expected from her lofty style and figurehead.

Everything was ready: under an awning that spread the brilliant light stood an upright chair, made fast to cleats, and in it sat Colley the patient, lead coloured, snoring still, and so tightly lashed by his friends that he was as incapable of independent movement as the ship's figurehead.

While I was seated up top contemplating the nighttime river, wondering about crows, he was up forward mounting his monster purchase as a figurehead.