milquetoast

This word for a mild-mannered and unassertive male is an eponym for a cartoon character created by Harold T. Webster. Caspar Milquetoast was featured in the comic strip The Timid Soul, which ran from 1924-53. Webster’s character was named for the dish milk toast, toast soaked in milk and served to invalids.

The adjectival use of milquetoast, meaning timid or ineffectual, dates to at least 1933 when it appears in the Journal of Negro Education:

Irate shrews and “Milquetoast” husbands, with razors wielded at departing parts of the anatomy, are Akers’ stock-in-trade.

The generic noun was in use by 1938, appearing in Margaret Fishback’s Safe Conduct: When to Behave and Why:

Don’t be a Milquetoast either, and be afraid to add it up.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, New Edition)

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