What is an adjective to describe the duality of a first responder (such as an EMT responding to a terrorist attack) who is terrified for the wounded, yet simultaneously calm, detached, and capable enough to give aid?

  • 3
    'Terrified' is a bit inconsistent with 'calm'. Are you looking for (which is the way everyone is answering) 'calm in a situation that is terrify ing to most people'?
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 16:59
  • 1
    I'm a fan of steely, meaning: "Coldly determined; hard"
    – Decency
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 1:09
  • Shouldn't the word terrified be replaced with horrified? The former means filled with fear (I assume the OP wants to say the EMT's afraid they'll all die or suffer through treatment & recovery & post-recovery), but the latter means [MW3UDE] horror 1a: a painful emotion of intense fear, dread, or dismay, which includes the fear in terrified.
    – user21497
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 2:43
  • 1
    Normally the word we use is, "Brave".
    – Mark Allen
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 9:16
  • Equanimity, listed in an answer below, is an excellent choice. Two more words come to mind: resilient/fortitude Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 15:54

9 Answers 9


The following don't explicitly satisfy the terrified criteria; they are instead words that represent calmness under pressure. Terror could be construed to be a form of pressure.

Equanimity is defined as:

evenness of mind especially under stress

Its adjective would be equanimous.

Its synonym, sangfroid, is defined as:

self-possession or imperturbability especially under strain

While the dictionary does not note its adjectival properties, you can probably use it as one. A sangfroid calm is a reasonably common phrase.

Unflappable is similarly defined:

having or showing calmness in a crisis

  • 1
    An interesting case of idioms that don't have the same meaning across different languages - 'sangfroid' translates to 'cold blood', which means something entirely different in English. I suppose they do both have the element of calmness under stress, but 'sangfroid' lacks the sinister aspect of 'cold blood'. Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 19:45
  • 2
    while "cold blood" means something different, "coolheaded" has the correct meaning.
    – Jimmy
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 21:55
  • @DarrelHoffman would the translation of "cold blood" mean something similar to the phrase, "ice water in her veins" rather than "he was murdered in cold blood"? As in, one who has ice water in their veins are indeed unflappable. Or are those two phrases also connected?
    – Mattygabe
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 17:39
  • Bah, should've kept reading. @Zoot answered below and made a direct connection between "ice water in their veins" and sang froid.
    – Mattygabe
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 17:40
  • Unflappable misses the mark. I don't think the injured or the injurers are bent on disrupting the EMT's composure, such as by making wise cracks or hurling personal invectives--albeit that people in agitated coma can get mighty rowdy with the tongue--however, comatose individuals generally don't inspire much in the way of commiserative feelings to begin with.
    – lex
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 20:34

They can be described as mechanical, stoic, businesslike, calm under pressure, or having icewater in their veins.

In French, this term is "sang-froid".

  • 4
    Sangfroid has been smuggled into English as well. Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 15:25
  • 9
    English doesn't smuggle vocabulary; it steals it in back alley muggings. Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 16:30
  • 2
    Then goes through pockets for loose grammar?
    – House
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 22:04
  • 1
    @Byte56: Vocabulary ... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – jmoreno
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 0:24
  • @Byte56 - Oh come now, everyone knows English doesn't bother with grammar.
    – Fake Name
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 1:20

The adjectives calm, composed and equanimous already have the connotation of one being possibly in a terrible situation.

  • I really like "composed".
    – Thomas
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 15:56

I like stoic for the given situation:

A person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.

  • Stoic lacks compassion though. It wouldn't fit well with the example of first responders given.
    – VISQL
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 0:42

I like resolute. Definition from Google:

Admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering


Someone commented on the OP's question with steely and I think that best fits the situation and usage that you describe.

adjective /ˈstēlē/ 
steelier, comparative; steeliest, superlative
Resembling steel in color, brightness, or strength
- a steely blue
Coldly determined; hard
- there was a steely edge to his questions




  • 2
    Um, this has nothing to do with terrified.
    – Daniel
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 19:07
  • Sorry, but there is authority behind those examples. This has nothing to do... is syntactically incorrect: ...those have nothing to do... is correct, unless your are saying that your comment has nothing to do.... The OP question did not ask for terrified's definition. It asked for suggestions for expressing calm in the grips of fear and sympathy.
    – lex
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 20:05
  • @lex 1. I agree with your last point. 2. Comments are temporary and cannot be edited, so there is no use pointing out grammar and spelling erors. 3. In Daniel's sentence, "this" refers to the answer as a whole (singular), not the three suggestions (plural). 4. The real problem with your answer is that it is too short: lacks discussion or explanation, or even a citation. If there is an authority behind those examples, it is on you to demonstrate the fact in your answer.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 20:57

Scared yet still willing and capable to do the right thing is pretty much the definition of bravery.

  • 2
    The main problem with brave (courageous, valiant, etc.) is they don't particularly imply "calm and capable". Just as others in that general area (dauntless, bold, fearless, intrepid) tend not to imply "terrified". Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 0:28

"Duality" of first reponder seems a bit nebulous. It's almost as if the word you seek is something akin to bedside manner: perhaps, gerney-side-fortitudinous; or trauma-scene-innured; perhaps even reassuring or self-assured; or just composed.

  • You mean gurney, right?
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 22:28

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