presence of mind



presence of mind (uncountable)

  1. Focused alertness, quick-thinking resourcefulness, stability of thought and feeling, or good sense, especially in spite of circumstances which are distracting, stressful, or otherwise challenging.
    • 1722, Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders, ch. 21:
      "[A]s you are to hear the most unexpected and surprising thing that perhaps ever befell any family in the world, I beg you to promise me you will receive it with composure and a presence of mind suitable to a man of sense."
    • 1726 October 28, [Jonathan Swift], chapter V, in Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. [] [Gulliver’s Travels], volume I, London: Printed for Benj[amin] Motte, [], OCLC 995220039, part I (A Voyage to Lilliput):
      [T]his magnificent palace would have infallibly been burnt down to the ground, if, by a presence of mind unusual to me, I had not suddenly thought of an expedient.
    • 1826, Sir Walter Scott, Woodstock, ch. 19:
      [S]he snatched a pistol from the wall, on which some fire-arms hung, and while she screamed to her father to awake, had the presence of mind to present it at the intruder.
    • 1850, William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Pendennis, ch. 11:
      The Major and Captain Costigan were old soldiers and accustomed to face the enemy, so we may presume that they retained their presence of mind perfectly.
    • 1871, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Pink and White Tyranny, ch. 5:
      During the whole agitating scene, Lillie kept up her presence of mind, and was perfectly aware of what she was about.
    • 1902, P. G. Wodehouse, The Pothunters, ch. 18:
      It speaks well for Barrett's presence of mind that he had grasped the situation and decided on his line of action before Welch went.
    • 2001 June 24, Roger Rosenblatt, "New Hopes, New Dreams," Time:
      Somebody had the presence of mind to give Reeve mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and the paramedics arrived about a minute later.