Somehow I am compelled to use the word "metal" to describe strong "intestinal fortitude", and perseverance however I can't find the spelling or any synonym like this.

Does a word that sounds like "metal" exist when describing an individual's character?

I'm looking for modern or historic usage of the word.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jul 19, 2017 at 17:12
  • 1
    You said you can't find any synonym like it. Please briefly summarize your research in your answer, and I will vote to reopen it, as I think will others.
    – ab2
    Jul 19, 2017 at 18:56
  • I did search for synonyms, but not homonyms. I forgot homonym was a 'thing'. I'm okay with the outcome as it stands and will let meta do as it wishes with this question. Thanks! Jul 19, 2017 at 21:58

2 Answers 2



Defined by Oxford Dictionaries as:

a person's ability to cope well with difficulties; spirit and resilience.

It is commonly seen in the phrase:

(put someone) on their mettle


(of a demanding situation) test someone's ability to face difficulties.

‘there were regular public meetings where local MPs were put on their mettle and remorselessly pilloried’

Source: ODO

Other constructions are possible too, for example:

test their mettle, apparently an American version (thanks, @PeterCordes)

show your mettle, etc.


According to Merriam-Webster, mettle was, as @Sparhawk points out in the comments, originally simply a variant spelling of the word metal (which dates to at least the 13th century), and it was used in all of the same senses as its metallic relative. Over time, however, mettle came to be used mainly in figurative senses referring to the quality of someone's character, with a first known usage in 1581. Today, both words can mean "vigor and strength of spirit or temperament," but only metal is used of metallic substances.

  • 7
    Interesting aside: both homonyms have the same etymology.
    – Sparhawk
    Jul 19, 2017 at 14:04
  • So interesting, and very cool @Sparhawk Jul 19, 2017 at 14:11
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    I've usually heard "test their mettle". I'm Canadian. Putting someone "on their mettle" sounds like British usage. Jul 19, 2017 at 16:56
  • @PeterCordes Thanks, I am British, which may explain it! Jul 19, 2017 at 16:58
  • 2
    Agree with @PeterCordes, as an American English speaker I've never heard "on their mettle" either. Jul 19, 2017 at 17:16

Steely - (Of a person, his qualities, etc) Hard and cold as steel, unimpressionable, inflexible, obdurate (OED).

  • 11
    I had to laugh when the answer 'Steely' was posted by 'Dan'
    – Kik
    Jul 19, 2017 at 16:14

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