fig·​ure·​head | \ ˈfi-g(y)ər-ˌhed How to pronounce figurehead (audio) \

Definition of figurehead

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

Examples of figurehead in a Sentence

The king is merely a figurehead; the government is really run by elected officials.
Recent Examples on the Web Similarly, Premier Li Keqiang’s recent prominence, read by some as an indication of a challenge to Xi, can equally well be explained as the premier being intentionally used as a figurehead in charge of resolving deepening economic woes. Eva Dou, Washington Post, 9 June 2022 If recent dissension leading up to that vote is any guide, deep divisions remain a feature of that battlefield, and the SBC’s new figurehead will have his work cut out for him. Sarah Stankorb, The New Republic, 15 June 2022 Tiger King looks at three organizations, each with its own charismatic figurehead. Peter Frick-wright, Outside Online, 9 Apr. 2020 The modern leader is a figurehead, a public persona, a personality. Jodie Cook, Forbes, 16 May 2022 By 1952, an act of Congress removed Smokey from the public domain, placed his image under the control of the secretary of Agriculture and cemented his position as a figurehead for official wildfire education in the United States. Joan Meiners, The Arizona Republic, 4 May 2022 Attacking faceless institutions is difficult, so a figurehead (almost always a woman or person of color) is found to serve as its face. Taylor Lorenz, Washington Post, 27 Apr. 2022 After his barely satisfactory performance in basic training, the irreverent Winger emerges as the figurehead for a ragtag band of Army misfits. Travis Bean, Forbes, 23 Apr. 2022 At the most extreme end, Japan’s warlords seized power in 1192, establishing the Shogunate, essentially a military dictatorship, and reducing the emperor to a mere figurehead until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Amanda Foreman, WSJ, 28 Apr. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'figurehead.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of figurehead

1765, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of figurehead was in 1765

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Dictionary Entries Near figurehead

figure-four trap


figure in

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Last Updated

8 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Figurehead.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for figurehead


fig·​ure·​head | \ ˈfi-gyər-ˌhed How to pronounce figurehead (audio) \

Kids Definition of figurehead

1 : a carved figure on the bow of a ship
2 : a person who is called the head of something but who has no real power


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