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According to the Random House Dictionary, the term milquetoast refers to "a very timid, unassertive, spineless person, esp. one who is easily dominated or intimidated".[1]

The term comes from a character in Harold T. Webster's 1924-1953 New York Herald Tribune comic strip The Timid Soul. The character's name was Caspar Milquetoast; Webster described him as “the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick”.[2] The name is a Frenchified reference to the dish "milk toast", toast soaked in milk, which was fed to the sick. [3] The term milksop (untoasted bread soaked in milk[4]) has been used since the fourteenth century to refer to "a weak or ineffectual person"[5], "an effeminate or weak-minded person"[6], or "a man lacking courage and other qualities deemed manly"[7].

And who doth lead them but a paltry fellow, / Long kept in Brittany at our mother's cost, / A milksop, one that never in his life / Felt so much cold as overshoes in snow? --William Shakespeare, Richard III[8]


  1. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc., "milquetoast.", 15 Mar. 2009. [1]
  2. World Wide Words, MILQUETOAST, by Michael Quinion, 1 Jun 2002 [2]
  3. Don Markstein's Toonopedia™, THE TIMID SOUL[3]
  4. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, "milksop", 15 Mar. 2009. [4]
  5. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. "milksoppy" 15 Mar. 2009. [5]
  6. "milksop." Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. 15 Mar. 2009. [6]
  7. "milksop." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 15 Mar. 2009. [7]
  8. William Shakespeare, Richard III [8]