from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A small, usually molded plastic toy figure, often having movable joints and typically representing a character from a movie, television show, comic book, or other popular entertainment medium.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A children's toy in the form of a posable plastic figurine of a character, often from a movie, video game, or television program, with moving parts and often capable of some form of spring-loaded movement.


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  • As a doll is an object representing a human being, most action figures are technically dolls. The name 'action figure' was coined by Hasbro in 1964 to market G.I. Joe figures to boys, who would not play with 'dolls' since those were associated with girls.

    For tariff purposes action figures are classified as dolls. Because the tariff for dolls is higher than the tariff for toys, Toy Biz brought a case before the U.S. Court of International Trade, arguing that their superhero action figures represented "non-human creatures" and thus were not dolls. The court found in their favor, saying that "the action figure playthings at issue here are not properly classifiable as “dolls�? under the HTSUS by virtue of various non-human characteristics they exhibit" (Toy Biz v. United States, 2003).

    The irony is that some of the figures in the ruling included the X-Men, who are well known (on both the comics page and silver screen) for asserting their humanity in the face of bigotry from 'normal' humans.

    September 9, 2008