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I often saw that the Russians use the adjective "крутой" and "жёсткий" to describe personalities, but I find it hard to understand these words and the difference between them. Here are a couple of examples of sentences with these words:

(1) Луиза Носкова: «У Гурьева крутой характер. И поэтому приходилось приспосабливаться» (Source)

(2) У этих знаков Зодиака самый жесткий характер. (Source)

These words can be also used as adverbs and nouns to talk about personality traits or behavior - круто, жёстко, крутизна, жёсткость.

My impression is that "крутой" and "жёсткий" as personality traits are Russian terms that do not have precise English equivalents.

The definitions of these words in Wiktionary are very vague and are given simply as a list of synonymous words and expressions:

крутой: суровый, упрямый, своевольный

жёсткий: суровый, грубый, не допускающий возражений или колебаний

The word "суровый," listed in the above definitions, is defined in Wiktionary as follows:

суровый: очень строгий, серьёзный

Opening the definition of "строгий," I see that it is defined as follows:

строгий: жёсткий (перен.), суровый

Thus the circle is closed: "жёсткий" is defined via "суровый," then "суровый" is defined via "строгий," and then "строгий" is defined via "жёсткий." An excellent three-move combo to make a poor Japanese student totally confused and disoriented.

I also looked in some other online dictionaries, but could not find anything better than vague definitions similar to what I saw in Wiktionary.

At the same time I strongly feel that native speakers have a very clear idea about these words. For instance, I was amazed to see how artistically one Russian talks about the term "крутизна":

(3) В заключении, я хочу сказать, как лично я понимаю крутизну президента России на международной арене, вне зависимости от личности: 1) Сбили турки российский самолёт – сбить турецкий или нанести ракетный удар по одному из аэродромов на территории Турции; 2) Нанесли удар по российской базе – нанести такой же подлый удар по одной из американских баз на территории Сирии; 3) Убили российских наёмников – убить не меньшее количество американских наёмников в Сирии и так далее… Только в этом случае политик имеет право на крутизну, а страна на уважение. В противном случае, президент страны лох и терпила, играющий по чужим правилам, ведущий страну по тропинке, протоптанной Советским Союзом к пропасти. (Source)

This definition implies that "крутой" is about the ability to deliver a strong response to a hostile action, and the person who is unable to do so is лох и терпила. In view of this definition, Sentence (1) can be rephrased as follows:

(4) Луиза Носкова: «Гурьев - не лох и не терпила. Он умеет пропорционально отвечать. И поэтому приходилось приспосабливаться»

But I am unsure whether my understanding is right.

My question is this: What are the precise meanings of "крутой" and "жёсткий" as personality traits?

I humbly hope that the native speakers of this SE can do better than Wiktionary and can come up with nice explanations addressing the precise meaning of each of these two words. Especially welcome are examples of behavior characterized as "крутой" or "жёсткий," especially those examples to which only one of these two words is applicable. This will help me understand the difference.

  • a short and simple answer is that крутой has mostly positive connotation, or that of subtle respect and awe, жёсткий - either neutral or negative – Баян Купи-ка Jun 26 '19 at 21:01
  • @БаянКупи-ка : But otherwise the meanings are the same? – Mitsuko Jun 26 '19 at 21:18
  • that if we understand them as synonyms of строгий, крутой has other meanings as well – Баян Купи-ка Jun 26 '19 at 21:22
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    My Impression is that жёсткий is rather about having a backbone and being unwilling to compromise and that крутой is rather about the ability to act quickly in a harsh way. But my impression is based on a pretty small sample. – Mitsuko Jun 26 '19 at 21:23
  • жёсткий usually isn't about principles, but about a manner of reaction and dealing with infractions, like unforgiving, unrelenting – Баян Купи-ка Jun 26 '19 at 21:28
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I think your comment "My Impression is that жёсткий is rather about having a backbone..." is very close.

Жёсткий - hard, not willing to compromise, not listening to others' concerns, not caring what others feel... It's interesting to know that this characteristic applies to HUMAN BEINGS only.

Крутой is mostly about quick action, not thinking and not reflecting prior to acting, usually an action could be aggessive and fast, sometimes stubborn. It's interesting to add that in some specific cases this characteristic may also apply to animals (e.g. крутой нрав у лошади).

But you need to be careful with another slang meaning for 'крутой' which is close to 'cool' in English, e.g. У него крутая тачка - He got a cool ride! cnf. крутые парни - cool guys (boys) - here крутой doesn't exactly mean that all these guys have strong character, they may just look cool or fashionable, etc.

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You've done such a good job exploring the meanings of these two words. Yes, they are very often used to describe personality treats. Both of them are very colloquial.

"Жесткий" - is really very close to "суровый". "Жесткий" is not going to compromise, acts straightforwardly and doesn't care at all whether it hurts someone. He has a demanding, rough temper.

"Крутой" is butt-kicking. It is similar to "жесткий", but stylistically softer, and we use it to show that we appreciate such personality or behavior. Usually, we like it. So it conveys our own attitude to it. We do not say "крутой" about someone or something we don't like or appreciate.

So, he is жесткий and крутой. Which means that he is жесткий and I like and appreciate it. I like his крутость or крутизна.

Apart from that, "крутой" also describes a strong, enduring person, capable to overcome lots of challenges. And again, saying "крутой" we like and appreciate these qualities.

"Крутой" also used just as a synonym to "классный парень".

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In modern Russian крутой has other dominating meanings - it also means "he is cool" or "he is self-asserting" or sometimes "he is dangerous". Even when applied to a person there is large difference between casual "он крутой" and bookish "у него крутой нрав".

So it is better to use жёсткий when talking about personality traits because it does not have that additional connotation. The difference between those two terms, if it exists, is smaller than amount of meaning spilled over to крутой from its casual meanings.

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Let me suggest you an example: if your boss has "крутой характер" or "крутой нрав", then it means that he has his own opinion and will be very confident and conscious in any situation and will not sag under the situation. "Крутой характер" is not bad. However, for example, your mate doesn't care about other opinions. And when somebody was trying ro argue with him, your mate just punched him right in the face. And, seeing this, you say "Ты жёсткий".

And on the other hand, you should understand, that "крутой" has many meanings. "Крутой" is cool, like he has harley davidson, yeah, he is cool. "Крутой" is a last name for one of the most famous modern composers in Russia :) "Крутой" is like steep. When you go down the hill and it is so steep you have to run. "Крутой" can even mean hard-boiled egg. It is said "яйца вкрутую". The egg is hard-boiled, it IS hard.

Moreover, "жёсткий" also have different meanings. "Жёсткий диван" is a hard sofa, like when you feel like sitting on a stone.

Then "крутой" is much more of abstract thing. And "крутой характер" has no connection with "крутой спуск" or "крутой парень", as well.

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