What is a single word (or idiom, or metaphor) that can be used to describe a person's personality that is "hard" or "tough" on the outside, but sensitive and soft on the inside?

Something that says: "He might be hard to get along with at first, but once you get to know him more, you'll find he's really a kind and sensitive/empatic person."

  • I don't know if there's a common word. But googling the phrase finds a number of metaphors and similes that can be used (I found a rap song that contains like a Wonder Ball).
    – Barmar
    Oct 21, 2014 at 18:45
  • Should this question be more suitable on English Learner SE?
    – Ooker
    Oct 21, 2014 at 19:40
  • Two native english speakers (teachers, actually) were discussing this, and could not find one (I overheard the discussion and posted the question). So I'd say no, it's not for English Learners SE.
    – Ludwik
    Oct 21, 2014 at 19:43

3 Answers 3


From The Conversationist, Introvert or extrovert, normal or abnormal: the problem with personality types, by Nick Haslam (Professor of Psychology, University of Melbourne), July 30, 2014:

Muhammad Ali proposed a fruit and nut-based typology, classifying people as pomegranates (hard on the outside and inside), walnuts (hard on the outside, soft on the inside), prunes (soft outside, hard inside) and grapes (soft inside and out).

Another food metaphor would be prickly pear, which is tough and thorny on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside.

Related would be this variation of a well known metaphor: a sheep in wolf's clothing, obviously meaning looks frightening, but is a lamb inside.

Another related would be all bark and no bite, which can be used in a positive way, as in, for example, "Don't be afraid of your grandpa, he's all bark and no bite".

  • Ali's typologies are neat, but not commonly used. The metaphores you give later on will work great to convey what I want said, and most people would understand them.
    – Ludwik
    Oct 22, 2014 at 8:10

There is Bruiser with a Soft Center from TvTropes. Chuck Norris and Ernest Hemingway are mentioned as real life examples.

The big, burly, super macho guy who is nothing but a stack of muscles is pretty much a brick, right? Not so much. True love or a sweet, touching moment reveals what a big softy he really is under all that hard muscle. Hands that can smash through walls effortlessly now rise to hide the Tender Tears, or remain stoically at his sides as he weeps Manly Tears.

enter image description here

Additionally, you can come up with your own metaphors in the right context. For example, like a coconut, like a hard-boiled egg, like a brie... [Though, brie has a hard skin when it is underripe]

  • 1
    TVTropes, the stock character list of the third millenium :) +1. See also "Jerkass Facade" which is similar, and probably relevant to your answer.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 21, 2014 at 21:04
  • Really on-the-spot picture, but @Canis_lupus answer will get understood by more people.
    – Ludwik
    Oct 22, 2014 at 8:13

It depends quite on the context, but perhaps he's all mouth and no trousers.

  • 1
    I like it, but it has a negative ring to it, doesn't it? I'm rather looking for something that says "He might be hard to get along with at first, but once you get to know him more, he's really a kind and sensitive/empatic person.".
    – Ludwik
    Oct 21, 2014 at 19:58

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