Milquetoast is the name of a cockroach in the comic strips Bloom County and Outland by Berkely Breathed. He was not a major character at first, but then again, neither was Bill the Cat. Along with Bill the Cat and Opus he travelled from Bloom County and became a major character in Outland. I believe he first appeared as a cockroach that whispered things into humans' ears to make them say and do goofy things.

Milquetoast is used to refer to a person or thing that is mild, wimpy, or otherwise lacking. It is most often used to refer to people, particularly boring, meek, and unexceptional people.

The term milksop has been used for centuries in this sense, perhaps being most familiar in the English translation of Don Quixote, in which Don Quixote berates Sancho using the phrase, "who baits thee, thou soul of a milksop?" (This is not a direct translation from the Spanish; the closest phrase appearing in the original rant is 'corazón de mantequillas', 'heart of butter'). The phrase was used long before this, and has appeared in other works as a surname for a weak character. As a matter of fact, we have historical examples of milksop being used to refer to people that appear long before any (surviving) examples of it being used to refer to bread soaked with milk.

By the early 1800s, the more current phrase milktoast began to be used in the same fashion. At this time it was more often used for the dish, milk toast, which was commonly served to young children and the infirm, as an easily chewed and digested meal. During this time the phrase had a distinct subtext of 'unmanly', and was much more likely to be used for timid boys and men than women... after all, women were supposed to be timid.

The current form, 'milquetoast', was first used by U.S. newspaper cartoonist H.T. Webster in his strip The Timid Soul, in which the central character was named Caspar Milquetoast -- "the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick". The strip ran from 1924 to 1952, depicting the life and times of Caspar, a very meek man indeed. By the 1930s, the word milquetoast was starting to enter common usage. It is still in use today, although it becomes more obscure every year.

Spelled with a lowercase 'm', milquetoast is an American English variant of milktoast and is similarly used to refer to a weak and timid person, particularly an emasculated man.

This word is involved in an interesting circuit of semantics and American popular culture. Let's begin in the middle. Harold Tucker Webster, a cartoonist, chose this spelling of milktoast as the surname for one of his most popular characters, Caspar Milquetoast. Milquetoast was described by his creator as 'a man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick." His hat blows off onto a lawn, but seeing the "Keep Off the Grass" sign, he sighs and goes off to buy a new hat. You get the picture.

The Milquetoast cartoons were very popular and had wide circulation in the 30 years they were published, from 1924 to about 1954. The public began to use Milquetoast to mean the sort of timid, unassertive, weak, push-over, door-mat, wussy person that Caspar represented. By the middle of the 1930s, the proper noun had become a common noun spelled with a lowercase letter 'm', and so had formally entered the lexicon of American English.

It is a clear result of the influence of mass media and popular culture that we use milquetoast for this meaning rather than the earlier milk toast. Milk toast is toast soaked in milk, often for easy consumption by persons who are very weak from illness. Milk toast itself is a variant of the very old term milksop, bread used to soak up milk, a somewhat disparaging term that has been in use for centuries to mean a meek, submissive person. Being a single word and having the feminine-looking '-ilque' spelling may have contributed to its adoption.


American Heritage Dictionary
http://www.toonopedia.com/milqueto.htm

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