So of late I’ve been hearing a lot of people call other people (or their actions) milk toast. I thought it was weird because those two words should conjure up breakfast food and not “spineless”. So I used my Google-Fu to determine what exactly it was.
Turns out milk toast, which is what my ears were hearing, is actually Milquetoast, a character from a comic strip in the 1930’s. The name of the character was so popular, it was made into a word and used in the English language. Definition:
noun ( sometimes initial capital letter )
a very timid, unassertive, spineless person, especially one who is easily dominated or intimidated: a milquetoast who’s afraid to ask for a raise.
Origin: 1935–40, Americanism; after Caspar Milquetoast, a character in The Timid Soul, comic strip by H. T. Webster (1885–1952), American cartoonist
The character, Caspar Milquetoast, was apparently named after milk toast because it was bland and unassuming.
People tend to say or write this term as milktoast or milk toast. Buuuuuuuut the only one that has the definition similar to milquetoast is milktoast, as seen here:
1.easily dominated; extremely mild; ineffectual; namby-pamby; wishy-washy.
noun 2. milquetoast.
But I’m having difficulty with the origin of the word. Milquetoast made the usage popularized and basically created the term… but somehow milktoast came earlier than milquetoast?
Both of these definitions came from dictionary.com, so I thought it was just a mistake. But I can’t find any other good references to milktoast’s origin outside of urban dictionary, which isn’t helping me with this current problem. So I’m not sure if this really is a mistake or if milktoast is just… not a word.
In looking up milktoast, I found milk-toast. Since it’s hyphenated, I thought it must be a compound but… I can’t find a single other use of milk-toast outside of dictionary.com. I don’t even know it it’s a word. And again, I can’t find anything that tells me about it’s origin.
So what I want to know is…
- Are milktoast/milk-toast actually words? Are they just improper spellings of milquetoast?
Also, if they are words, do they predate milquetoast? Do they mean the same thing as milquetoast?
- Is writing the term as milk toast wrong?
I almost always see milquetoast written not in the French form “milquetoast” but the English form “milk toast”. Technically, writing “milk toast” in place of “milquetoast” is wrong because they don’t mean the same thing, but people seem to do that because they hear it as “milk toast”. And the word milquetoast is technically derived from milk toast. So I don’t know if the use of milk toast in place of milquetoast is wrong.