figure (n.) Look up figure at
c. 1200, "numeral;" mid-13c., "visible appearance of a person;" late 14c., "visible and tangible form of anything," from Old French figure "shape, body; form of a word; figure of speech; symbol, allegory" (10c), from Latin figura "a shape, form, figure; quality, kind, style; figure of speech," in Late Latin "a sketch, drawing," from PIE *dheigh- "to form, build" (see dough).

Philosophical and scientific senses are from use of Latin figura to translate Greek skhema. Meaning "lines forming a shape" is from mid-14c. From mid-14c. as "human body as represented by art;" late 15c. as "a body, the human form as a whole." The rhetorical use of figure, "peculiar use of words giving meaning different from usual," dates to late 14c.; hence figure of speech (by 1704). Figure-skating is from 1835. Figure eight as a shape was originally figure of eight (c. 1600). From late 14c. as "a cut or diagram inserted in text."
figure (v.) Look up figure at
late 14c., "to represent" (in painting or sculpture), "make a likeness," also "to have a certain shape or appearance," from Old French figurer, from Latin figurare (see figure (n.)). Meaning "to shape into" is c. 1400; from mid-15c. as "to cover or adorn with figures." Meaning "to picture in the mind" is from c. 1600. Intransitive meaning "make an appearance, make a figure, show oneself" is from c. 1600. Meaning "work out a sum" (by means of arithmetical figures) is from 1833, American English; hence colloquial sense "to calculate upon, expect" (1837). Related: Figured; figuring.