When you want to describe someone who is tough on the outside but soft on the inside, it will help to come up with some descriptive words. We’ve put together a list of the best synonyms for exactly that purpose in this article to help you figure out which works for you.
Which Words Can Describe Someone That Is Hard On The Outside But Soft On The Inside?
There are a few great words to describe someone who is hard on the outside but soft inside. Some of the ones that we’ll talk about include:
- Prickly pear
- Sheep in wolf’s clothing
- Bruiser with a soft center
- All mouth and no trousers
The preferred term is “walnut,” which was coined by Muhammad Ali. It is used to refer to somebody how is hard on the outside but soft on the inside, and it’s the best word you can use to talk about that descriptive personality.
Let’s start by looking into the meaning of “walnut.” It works really well, and it helps that it’s only one word rather than an entire phrase.
Originally coined by the famous boxer Muhammad Ali, a “walnut” is somebody who puts on a tough show, but once threatened, will often back out of a fight because they’ve got a soft interior.
He also coined phrases in a similar way like “grape” (both soft inside and out), “prune” (soft outside, tough within), and “pomegranates” (hard through and through).
To this day, it’s still a great phrase to use, and it’s especially helpful that Ali himself was the one to coin it. People frequently use it when they want to belittle their opponents or try to win a psychological game before any serious challenges come to fruition.
“Walnut” is a great way to use the phrase, and it works in the following ways:
- You’re a walnut, meaning that you’re hard on the outside, but nothing but soft and plain in the middle!
- I wouldn’t worry too much about her. The second you challenge her, she’ll back away from you because she’s a walnut.
- Walnuts shouldn’t worry you! They’re easy to handle, as long as you threaten them with a defeat early on.
- I’m not a walnut! I’ll show you what I can do! Just give me some time to prove myself.
- I hear that they’re both walnuts, which makes my imminent victory over them even sweeter!
Next, let’s look into what it means to be a “prickly pear.”
If someone is a prickly pear, it means they have a hard (or “prickly”) exterior. However, once removed, you’ll find that they’re soft and easy to get through, just like a ripe pear would be.
It’s easy enough to break down the outer barriers of a prickly pear as well, making them much easier to handle than most other cases. As long as you don’t mind getting pricked in the initial confrontation, it’s often possible to break through relatively quickly.
A “prickly pear” works with the following examples:
- My mother thinks me a prickly pear, and apparently, my toughness is all for the show!
- You’re not as tough as you think; in fact, you’re nothing more than a prickly pear!
- I wouldn’t worry about getting tangled up with that prickly pear! He’s not going to be able to do much to beat you.
- You’re a prickly pear, and I can tell that you’re terrified of what comes next.
- Don’t be a simple prickly pear when you can actually put your actions to the test to see whether you’re worthy!
Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing
A “sheep in wolf’s clothing” is the exact opposite of the idiom “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” It works really well to talk about someone who is tough outside but struggles to act on anything once given a chance.
Sheep are notoriously weak animals who often follow their leaders blindly without any real say in the matter. Wolfs are tough, vicious preadtors. Someone who is a sheep in wolf’s clothing acts tough and vicious, but once challenged, turns into a weak-willed ball of wool.
The metaphor holds up incredibly well, and it’s really easy to understand what it means. Even if someone hasn’t encountered it before, if you know about sheep and wolves, it’s likely that you’ll understand the meaning that someone is trying to convey with this one.
A “sheep in wolf’s clothing” might come about in the following ways:
- They’re a bunch of sheep in wolf’s clothing, so I wouldn’t put it past them to back out of this one as well!
- He’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and I’m not entirely sure why you’re so worried about what he has to say.
- Don’t be a sheep in wolf’s clothing. There are so many better things that you could be; you just need to stop backing away from a challenge!
- I’m not a sheep in wolf’s clothing! I’ll happily prove that to you if you’re willing to give me a chance!
- I hear that she’s nothing but a sheep in wolf’s clothing. I know that sounds mad, but she’s all tough outside but soft and gooey within.
Bruiser With A Soft Center
A bruiser with a soft center is something that was coined by television magazines. They use it to talk about specific actors who act tough on-screen but are soft inside and rarely try to confront people (a good example is Chuck Norris).
A bruiser with a soft center is a person who acts tough but often has a way to let their defenses down when they trust people. It might also mean that once challenged the bruiser will show their true colors and not want to engage in any serious conflicts.
It’s especially prevalent with actors in film and television. However, the phrase has moved on to apply to a larger audience, which makes it a great idiom to use to describe just about anybody.
A “bruiser with a soft center” can work in the following ways:
- I heard that he’s a bruiser with a soft center, so I wouldn’t worry too much about anything he says.
- I’m a bruiser with a soft center, and I’ll happily let my guard down when I know who I can trust.
- We’re not threatened by a lowly bruiser with a soft center! Tell him that if he wants a fight, we’ll happily take him on!
- Trust us; she’s nothing but a bruiser with a soft center. She might talk the talk, but she doesn’t walk the walk.
- I’ve been called a bruiser with a soft center one too many times. It’s time that I show people that this center isn’t nearly as “soft” as they think.
All Mouth And No Trousers
Finally, we’ll look at the idiom “all mouth and no trousers.”
This idiom means that someone is all talk, and they’ll happily talk themselves up to appear much tougher than they are. However, when confronted, they don’t have the “trousers” (or courage) to fight back against whatever it is someone is saying about them.
Generally, a person who is all mouth and no trousers is easy to handle in most situations. They’ll often talk big, but they’ll struggle to act on anything that they say. They’re also easy to identify in most social circles, making it much easier for you not to have to worry about them.
You might see “all mouth and no trousers” in the following ways:
- Oh, I wouldn’t worry about anything he says! He’s all mouth and no trousers really!
- You shouldn’t be alarmed about that threat. She’s notorious for being all mouth and no trousers!
- I don’t think you realize this, but your boss is all mouth and no trousers, and he really needs you.
- You’re all mouth and no trousers! Why don’t you try me on for size and see which one of us comes out on top?
- They’re all mouth and no trousers. The next time I see them, I’ll make sure to highlight that to them.
What Does It Mean To Be Hard On The Outside But Soft On The Inside?
Now that we’ve covered the best synonyms to use to describe someone in this way, it might also help you to understand what the saying means.
When someone is hard on the outside but soft within, it means they put on a tough show and hardened exterior. However, when challenged, they’ll often back away from conflict or not have enough to show for it when put on the spot.
Sometimes, it might mean that someone is a pushover, but only when actually challenged. Usually, people with this description will pretend that they’re tougher than they are to try and avoid serious confrontation.
It could also mean that somebody puts on a tough exterior, but once they trust someone enough, they’ll happily let their guard down. This makes them really good relationship partners, as you’ll often find their protective, but soft toward you.
However, if you actually confront someone with this personality trait, you’ll often find that it doesn’t take much for them to back away or apologize.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.