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The word “poise” has a number of meanings, though the most common usage of the word in general conversation is often used in reference to a person and is typically intended to mean that the person demonstrates self-assuredness or composure. This is often used in a complimentary manner to show regard toward a person who has demonstrated behavior similar to “grace under pressure,” though it can be used in an ironic way through sarcasm. Poise can also be used to describe the position of an object as it relates to another object, or to describe a suspension of motion or a moment between two different types of motion. The term is also used in physics as a unit of measurement for dynamic viscosity.
Typically, poise is used to describe someone who has been somewhat tested in terms of his or her self-confidence or composure and demonstrated respectable behavior. For example, if someone was the victim of a violent crime and testified against his or her attacker, then while on the stand the victim could be made to look like he or she deserved to be attacked by the defense attorney. If that person remained calm and under control during the process, answering questions and maintaining discipline in his or her actions, then he or she would be described as having poise.
Less extreme situations can also demonstrate that a person has poise, such as staying calm in a traffic jam, being polite toward someone who has insulted him or her, and remaining focused during emergencies. The word poise can also be used to describe how something is located in relationship to something else and often is used to demonstrate balance. For example, someone could say that “the book was poised upon the shelf, until it was bumped and began to wobble in a precarious manner.”
Poise can also be used to describe a moment of pause in motion, such as hovering or wavering slightly in the midst of other movements. For example, if someone threw a ball into the air then caught it, he or she could say that “the ball poised in the air for just a moment, pausing between its gentle rise and the inevitable fall back to Earth.” In physics, the word poise is used as a unit of measurement in regards to dynamic viscosity, but is named after the French physician Jean Louis Marie Poiseuille who studied how human blood flows through constricted tubes.