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NOAD describes a figurehead as

a nominal leader or head without real power.

I'm wondering if there's a complementary one-word term for the person who does wield the power in such a situation. I'm aware of the phrase, power behind the throne,

a person or organization that exerts authority or influence without having formal status.

I'm just hoping there's a way to refer to such a person more directly and succinctly.

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From The Wizard of Oz, there's the man behind the curtain. –  Peter Shor Jan 30 '12 at 0:40
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4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Though kingmaker originally meant the person with power to influence the choice of prince, it is also now used in a larger sense of power behind the throne.

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If you don't mind using French, and if you can accept two words, there's éminence grise.

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Which, unfortunately, has come to mean elder statesman in current usage; otherwise, éminence grise captures it perfectly. –  Gnawme Jan 30 '12 at 7:51
    
@Gnawme: There is no such suggestion in the OED's definition and citations. I suppose the association with age, if there is one, has come about through understanding 'grise' as 'grey-haired'. –  Barrie England Jan 30 '12 at 7:58
    
Perhaps it's an American perversion. When I consult COCA, about 5 of the 25 results appear to use the term in the sense of "power behind the throne." –  Gnawme Jan 30 '12 at 8:05
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Éminence grise hits the mark pretty closely: anyone who has great influence, usually over a figurehead, such as a pontiff or (henpecked) husband without being observed much in that role. The Hidden Hand conveys the same idea.

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"The Hidden Hand". Are you referring here to the invisible hand, Adam Smith's coinage? –  MετάEd Jan 31 '12 at 22:42
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puppet master as they are pulling strings of a puppet

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+1 for apt suggestion –  user49727 Sep 14 '13 at 15:36
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