figurehead


fig·ure·head

noun \ˈfi-g(y)ər-ˌhed\

: a carved figure (as of a woman) on a ship's bow

: a person who is called the head or chief of something but who has no real power

Full Definition of FIGUREHEAD

1
:  the figure on a ship's bow
2
:  a head or chief in name only

Examples of FIGUREHEAD

  1. The king is merely a figurehead; the government is really run by elected officials.

First Known Use of FIGUREHEAD

1765

figurehead

noun    (Concise Encyclopedia)

Figurehead from the Oseberg ship, Viking, about AD 800; in the Museum of National Antiquities, …—© Universitetets Oldsaksamling, Oslo, Norway; photographer, Eirik Irgens Johnsen

Ornamental symbol or figure placed on a prominent part of a ship, usually at the bow. It could be a religious symbol, a national emblem, or a figure symbolizing the ship's name. The custom of decorating a ship probably began in ancient Egypt or India and was followed by the Chinese, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. As early as 1000 BC, the stem- and sternposts were carved and painted to distinguish one ship from another. The Vikings built ships with high bows and a projecting stem bearing a menacing figurehead, similar to the ships of William I the Conqueror as seen in the Bayeux Tapestry. Figureheads have historically varied in size from 18 in. (45 cm) to 8–9 ft (2.5 m). They remained popular until after World War I.

Browse

Next Word in the Dictionary: figure in
Previous Word in the Dictionary: figure–four trap
All Words Near: figurehead

Seen & Heard

What made you want to look up figurehead? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).