I'm looking for the opposite of gilded when used as:

having a pleasing or showy appearance that conceals something of little worth.

Most of the antonyms listed from different sources mean 'dull' or 'boring'. I'm looking for a word that literally means 'mundane on the outside but with a heart of gold'. Does such a word exist?

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    So how many negations do you want here? There are three concepts that can be negated here: (1) pleasing appearance (2) concealment (3) little worth. If you negate all three of them you get an unpleasant appearance displaying something of great value. If you just negate (1) and (3) you get an unpleasant appearance concealing something of great worth, which is maybe tarnished, though that doesn't guarantee the worth. Or you could negate only (1) and (2) and have an unpleasant appearance displaying something of little worth, which is junk. "Opposite" is not a simple concept. Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:15
  • Possibly relevant: What types of antonyms are there?. Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:20
  • A rough diamond is the nominal term; there is a tendency to form compound as well as simple nominal modifiers. A rough-diamond colleague. Commented May 17, 2013 at 16:25
  • In the "for what it's worth" department: The late country music singer/songwriter Johnny Cash had a song that went: "I'm just an old chunk of coal now, Lord, but I'm gonna be a diamond some day." What Cash is saying, I think, is that he's far from perfect now, but just as the combination of carbon + pressure + eons = a diamond, likewise he will, through a transformative process, emerge as a diamond one day. Or to change the metaphor, today on the outside he's a pauper, but inside is a prince waiting to come out. Commented May 17, 2013 at 17:04
  • The story of "The Rich Man and Lazarus" is illustrative of the opposite of gilded (see Luke 16:19-31). On the one hand, you have a well-to-do member of the gentry, who from all outward appearances has everything he wants and needs. On the other hand you have a poor, pathetic beggar with ugly sores all over his body, who from all appearances has nothing to recommend him. Who goes to paradise? The rich man? No, Lazarus does. Which goes to show that just as surely as the proud will someday be abased, so too someday will the humble be exalted--albeit not necessarily in this lifetime! Commented May 17, 2013 at 17:23

7 Answers 7


"Diamond-in-the-rough" is a literal expression that is also used figuratively for things of value with unassuming exteriors.

The earliest usage I found of this expression is in the Pennsylvania Constitution Convention (John Agg) Volume 5 - 1938:

"He may be looked upon as the diamond in the rough, which may, when properly polished, at some future day, become a bright and shining ornament and develope its inherent lustre."

  • This phrase most accurately describes the idea I was getting at. That qualified, Is there a single word that encompasses diamond-in-the-rough? Commented May 18, 2013 at 21:19

As John Lawler points out, several amusing combinations of negations exist, although your qualification “mundane on the outside but with a heart of gold” limits possibilities somewhat. Here are a few words and phrases to consider.
unpretentious, “simple, humble, not pretentious, plain”
down-to-earth, “practical; realistic; pragmatic”
salt of the earth, “A most worthy person ... A decent, dependable, unpretentious person”
solid, “Large, massive ... Strong or unyielding ... Excellent, of high quality”
earnest, “Serious in speech or action; eager; urgent; importunate; pressing; instant. ... Ardent in the pursuit of an object; eager to obtain or do; zealous with sincerity; with hearty endeavour; heartfelt; fervent; hearty ... Possessing or characterised by seriousness; strongly bent; intent ... Strenuous; diligent”


understated - represented less strongly or strikingly than the facts would bear out

It's not as metaphorical as 'gilded', but is semantically opposite in that the external appearances are not as good as what's behind.


Depending on the context you may consider antonyms to ostentatious such as reserved or modest.


The word you are looking for is something like patina or tarnish. It should be a word that implies something that obscures the beauty, although as patina is a sign of proof of age, many do not see it as a negative.



For some reason a single-word reply is too short for a question asking for a single word.


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    You should always add a dictionary definition for the word and why it's a good fit for the question. Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 13:29

"Sleeper" can fit some specific situations. A car that looks boring and ordinary but is extremely fast is referred to as a sleeper. The word is also in fantasy sports to describe a player that is on the verge of breaking out but isn't perceived as valuable yet.

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