What a striking figure. No, not that lady over there, the one I figured out for the math problem. Go figure, right? I know, I know--it's just a figure of speech. ;-)
Figure obviously has a lot of meanings, both as a noun and as a verb. It entered the English language waaaaay back in the 13th century with its two basic meanings: (1) the form of a person or (2) numeral. It adopted rhetorical uses only a century later, yet it took until 1824 for figure of speech to come about.
As a verb, its primary meaning of "to represent" (Beatrice figures in The Divine Comedy as an inspirational guide through Paradise . . .) is from the 14th century; three hundred years later it evolved into "to picture" or "to make an appearance." Interestingly, combining it with the "numeral" definition from the noun side of things didn't happen until the middle of the 19th century--so not until then did you "figure out" a math problem.
Hope everyone has a great Monday!