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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. Jan 30, 2012 at 0:40

4 Answers 4

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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, 2012 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'. Jan 30, 2012 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, 2012 at 8:05
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puppet master as they are pulling strings of a puppet

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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?
    – MetaEd
    Jan 31, 2012 at 22:42

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