Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Popwords: Milquetoast

So I had an idea for a fun thing to do every so often. Pop culture is ephemeral, here and gone in a moment. A living language is a continually evolving entity. Sometimes the two cross, and we end up with words, that while once universally recognized for their reference to popular culture, are now a bit weird and well, not very comprehensible.
Our first case in point: Milquetoast


Dictionary.com says:
noun (sometimes initial capital letter)
a very timid, unassertive, spineless person, esp. one who is easily dominated or intimidated: a milquetoast who's afraid to ask for a raise.


You may have heard this used in old movies, or in reference to a human doormat. It's a funny sort of word, sure, but what does it really mean?
Meet cartoonist H.T. Webster's Casper Milquetoast, "the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick."

Once upon a time, Mr. Milquetoast starred in his own comic, The Timid Soul. On second thought, "starred" is maybe too strong a word for this poor guy.

"Milquetoast" is a distortion of Milk Toast, which is an extremely bland breakfast food customarily fed to sick people. From what I can gather, it's a bit like French toast would be after having its spirit shattered irreparably serving hard time in a Turkish prison.

I imagine his voice sounds a little like Droopy Dog's.

An American Cartoonist, H.T. Webster(1885–1952)was active around the early to mid twentith century. His humour had a satirical edge to it- Wishy-washy Mr. Milquetoast is funny because in spite of Webster's comedic exaggerations, there is much truth in him.

Is that okay with you, Dear?

People in the 1930s and 40s emphatically agreed, which is how Milquetoast became part of our vocabulary. Unobtrusive Mr. Milquetoast isn't so well-known today as he once was, but his name, and his timid brethren, live on.


Sources
Green, Harry Lee. "The Timid Soul." Hairy Green Eyeball. 15122008. Blogspot.com, Web. 3 Feb 2010. .

Markstein, Don. "Don Markstein's Toonopedia: The Timid Soul." Don Markstein's Toonopedia. 2003. Don Markstein, Web. 3 Feb 2010. .

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