• milquetoast •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A timid, weak-willed, insipid, softspoken, wishy-washy person; a milksop and a schnook.
Notes: Wishy-washy people have traditionally been associated with milk over the history of English. Today we have our choice of milksop, originally someone who sops their bread in milk before eating it (or the bread itself) or today's Good Word. The only derivation from milquetoast is the adjective milquetoasty. Milksop, on the other hand, has an abstract noun milksoppery and the adjective milksoppish at its disposal.
In Play: In the US, people who do not resist injustice are disparaged: "Jesse Noff is such a milquetoast he lets everyone in the office push him around—even the mail boy." Today's Good Word serves such disparagement well: "That milquetoast Dabney has agreed to double our workload next year."
Word History: Today's delightful word is obviously a 'Frenchified' variant of the English word milktoast. It is a commonization of the last name of Casper Milquetoast, a character by Harold Webster (1885-1952) who appeared in the cartoon strip "Timid Soul", beginning in 1924. By the 1930s his name was a common noun. Milk toast was toast soaked in warm milk, often fed in the 20s and 30s to babies or the elderly who had lost their teeth. Did you know there is still an adjective for milk, spelled and pronounced milch? Milch cows give milk. (Today we express our gratitude that Sandra Larsen is not a milquetoast too fearful to suggest this wonderful English word for our series.)
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