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as in:  he is just a figurehead

Is she a real leader or a figurehead?
  a person who appears to be the leader of an organization, but who really has no power
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figurehead figureheads
A figurehead is sometimes used for favorable publicity, or to honor a donor, or as cover for questionable activity. The term can also refer to someone viewed by the public as a leader of a movement for which there is no single organization with authority.
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  • Is she a real leader or a figurehead?
  • The administration fired all employees hired under the junta’s civilian figurehead government.
  • I don’t want to be just a famous figurehead, but if I think I can genuinely make a difference, I’d like to take a turn leading the organization.
  • a book by the former figurehead of the antiwar movement

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  • She looked beautiful, fierce, leaning forward like a figurehead.
    Rainbow Rowell  --  Eleanor & Park
  • The transparent elected have been used as figureheads, shielding the backroom from view.
    Dave Eggers  --  The Circle
  • Always she waited, her eyes straining to make out the figure on the prow, and always, at the sight of those strange, glistening white figureheads, her heart sank.
    Elizabeth George Speare  --  The Witch of Blackbird Pond
  • One moment he was the captain of his own pirate ship—a happy place, crewed by obedient eleven-year-olds, except for the girls, who were all a year or two older than Nick and who looked especially pretty in their pirate costumes—and the next he was alone on the deck, and a huge, dark ship the size of an oil tanker, with ragged black sails and a skull for a figurehead, was crashing through the storm towards him.
    Neil Gaiman  --  The Graveyard Book
  • The bronze dragon figurehead creaked and clacked.
    Rick Riordan  --  The Blood of Olympus
  • On the street: multicolored neon angels, in silhouette, leaning out from the tops of the buildings like ship figureheads.
    Donna Tartt  --  The Goldfinch

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  • The President in particular is very much a figurehead—he wields no real power whatsoever.
    Douglas Adams  --  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Whatever we might think of this imposing man in his pointed hat, he is a figurehead who represents the will of Kilanga.
    Barbara Kingsolver  --  The Poisonwood Bible
  • The figurehead of a regime whose power is soon to be shattered, its rule ended.
    Cassandra Clare  --  City of Ashes
  • Unless you can overcome the Shade’s magic, you will be reduced to no more than a figurehead.
    Christopher Paolini  --  Eldest
  • During the whole of that period Napoleon, who seems to us to have been the leader of all these movements—as the figurehead of a ship may seem to a savage to guide the vessel—acted like a child who, holding a couple of strings inside a carriage, thinks he is driving it.
    Leo Tolstoy  --  War and Peace
  • I saw the most wonderful figureheads, that had all been far over the ocean.
    Robert Louis Stevenson  --  Treasure Island
  • He saw a huge ship in a dry dock, workers scrambling to finish the hull, a guy with a blowtorch welding a bronze dragon figurehead to the prow.
    Rick Riordan  --  The Son of Neptune
  • Then as you got closer, you might notice the giant figurehead—a dark-haired maiden in a Greek chiton, wrapped in chains with a look of horror on her face, as if she could smell the stench of all the monsters she was being forced to carry.
    Rick Riordan  --  The Last Olympian
  • For indeed, we are nothing but figureheads to complex forces which seem to be under a kind of impulse.
    T. H. White  --  The Once and Future King
  • He’s smart enough to be president, but he says he has no interest in being a figurehead.
    Meg Cabot  --  The Princess Diaries
  • His instincts of an agitator remained dormant as long as Don Apolinar Moscote was a figurehead.
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez  --  One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • I found a number of odd economic bedfellows who I think may be using Canadian figureheads to buy up Canadian properties.
    Robert Ludlum  --  The Bourne Identity
  • If this was their ship, she was their figurehead, turned on its back, sky-facing.
    Eudora Welty  --  The Golden Apples
  • Upon its accursed figurehead you shall place the Key, David Menlo.
    Henry H. Neff  --  The Second Siege
  • To Reich she was the painted figurehead of a pornographic ship… the famous Gilt Corpse.
    Alfred Bester  --  The Demolished Man
  • "Oh, yes, a fine one-handed figurehead he will make," spat Nahuseresh.
    Megan Whalen Turner  --  Queen of Attolia
  • Arya stood at the prow, one hand resting on the gilded figurehead, a maiden with a bowl of fruit.
    George R.R. Martin  --  A Feast For Crows
  • Then I saw the figurehead.
    Katherine Applegate  --  Everworld - Search For Senna
  • He is simply a figurehead.
    Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard  --  Killing Lincoln
  • From up here, he could see her more clearly; the lean striped hull, the bronze figurehead, the billowing sail.
    George R.R. Martin  --  A Storm of Swords
  • He’s a figurehead.
    Henry H. Neff  --  The Maelstrom
  • Through a fog of pain, she heard the ship’s figurehead, Festus the bronze dragon, creaking in alarm and shooting fire.
    Rick Riordan  --  The House of Hades
  • She was draped heavily in white, shaded with blue, like a Queen, and she stood braced and looking upward like the figurehead on a Viking ship.
    Eudora Welty  --  The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
  • Aristocracy and plutocracy still furnish the figureheads of politics; but they are now dependent on the votes of the promiscuously bred masses.
    George Bernard Shaw  --  Man And Superman
  • Romans screamed and scattered as a full-sized dragon charged through the forum—a beast even scarier than the bronze dragon figurehead on the Argo II.
    Rick Riordan  --  The Mark of Athena
  • Her figurehead showed a laughing woman holding an infant by one foot, but the woman’s cheeks and the babe’s bottom were both pocked by wormholes.
    George R.R. Martin  --  A Dance With Dragons
  • The prow of the ship had hit squarely between two of the giant fig trees and its figurehead had been wedged, unseen and unscathed, while the ship collapsed behind her.
    Terry Pratchett  --  Nation
  • I was annoyed at both him and Blackie — at my company commander because I resented being put to sleep against my wishes; and as for my platoon sergeant, I had a dirty hunch that it wouldn’t have been done if he weren’t the real boss and myself just a figurehead.
    Robert A. Heinlein  --  Starship Troopers
  • Soldiers broke into his house, ransacked his snail collection, his shells, his butterflies, his bottles, the ship figureheads he had rescued from so many seas, his books, his paintings, and his unfinished poems, looking for subversive weapons and hidden Communists, until his old poet’s heart began to falter.
    Isabel Allende  --  The House of Spirits
  • Raven pushes Y.T. through the room ahead of him, like she’s a figurehead on his kayak, and everywhere they go, people are shoved out of her way by Raven’s almost palpable personal force field.
    Neal Stephenson  --  Snow Crash
  • He had worked very hard; he had won his position by sheer ability (being the son of a shopkeeper); loved his profession; made a fine figurehead at ceremonies and spoke well—all of which had by the time he was knighted given him a heavy look, a weary look (the stream of patients being so incessant, the responsibilities and privileges of his profession so onerous), which weariness, together with his grey hairs, increased the extraordinary distinction of his presence and gave him the…
    Virginia Woolf  --  Mrs. Dalloway
  • "Well," August said, going right on with her pasting, "you know, she’s really just the figurehead off an old ship, but the people needed comfort and rescue, so when they looked at it, they saw Mary, and so the spirit of Mary took it over.
    Sue Monk Kidd  --  The Secret Life of Bees
  • "The King of England," he observed, "is only a figurehead.
    Thomas Wolfe  --  Look Homeward, Angel
  • Her hull was black and gold, her figurehead a lion with an upraised paw.
    George R.R. Martin  --  A Dance With Dragons
  • The bronze figurehead at the bow of Shayala’s Dance sent up wings of salt spray as it cut the waves.
    George R.R. Martin  --  A Storm of Swords
  • He understood that in spite of his present title of civil and military leader of the town, Don Apolinar Moscote was once more a figurehead.
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez  --  One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Don Apolinar Moscote, the benevolent ruler whose activity had been reduced to the maintenance from his scanty resources of two policemen armed with wooden clubs, was a figurehead.
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez  --  One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • When they reached the bow of the ship, the figurehead turned a hundred and eighty degrees to look at them.
    Rick Riordan  --  The Mark of Athena
  • Anyway, I revived him as a figurehead.
    Rick Riordan  --  The Mark of Athena
  • His only other friend, Festus the dragon, had been reduced to a figurehead when his control disk had gotten destroyed on their last adventure.
    Rick Riordan  --  The Mark of Athena
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Associated words [difficulty]:   figurehead [5]
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