After my wife gave our postman an end-of-year tip, he bought our young girls some donuts as a treat. It was a kind, gentle gesture and he seemed almost a little uncomfortable doing it — he's sort of a gruff, manly-man type of person.

Anyway, we were wondering if there's a good word or phrase that describes this kind of thing (excuse the pun): a gentle act done by a normally gruff person (or relatedly, maybe a person who seems gruff but really isn't).

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    I guess I'm thinking of something parallel to "that was a gentlemanly gesture" (but gentlemanly isn't the right word here as it doesn't capture the "gruff" part).
    – Ben Hoyt
    Dec 21, 2016 at 15:09
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    Fun question. I can think of adjectives for such a person, like "big softie" or describing such a man as a "teddy-bear". No adverbs come to mind though. Often I see writers describe the character, making him gruff and manly, then use a word like "gently," "tenderly," or "carefully" for the contrast. Dec 21, 2016 at 15:23
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    You could say that it was out of character. Dec 21, 2016 at 16:14
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    Teeing off of @BladorthinTheGrey's suggestion, you might say that his gesture was uncharacteristically (kind, thoughtful, etc.) Dec 21, 2016 at 16:17
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    I think @KristinaLopez 's "uncharacteristically kind" (by way of Bladortin's "out of character") describes such conflicting events perfectly, but if you were thanking the postman himself (in a TY note, for example), I'd consider using "exceptionally kind," which would give him the option to interpret "exceptionally" as "1-forming an exception or rare instance; unusual; extraordinary" (="uncharacteristically," imo) or "2-.unusually excellent; superior."
    – Papa Poule
    Dec 22, 2016 at 0:32

1 Answer 1


Not a word, but a longish phrase.

Don't let her/his rough exterior fool you; underneath that grumpy disposition beats a heart of gold

TV tropes has a page dedicated to Jerk with a Heart of Gold, which is a much shorter phrase.

A person you would expect to be a big Jerkass has some redeeming qualities behind their tough demeanor. Occasionally, they'll try to make it a Hidden Heart of Gold.

And for the latter, TV Tropes describes the character thus

Hidden Heart of Gold

Bob is a total Jerkass. He's the type to knock a guy down and kick him when he tries to get up, the type who'll bed a girl then toss her aside. Just ask anyone. […] So why is a nice girl like Alice with him? Well Alice knows of a different side, one where he's always nice to her when they're together; she's seen him do a few good deeds when he didn't know she was watching. Like reading to orphans, making donations to charity, or just plain helping others. Thing is, eventually Alice is going to confront him about his true self, call him out for his crime of... kindness.

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