I recently came across a word I was unfamiliar with: milquetoast. The word is used to describe someone who is timid, weak, or unassertive.
The word originates from an early 1900’s comic strip created by H.T. Webster entitled “The Timid Soul.” The protagonist of Webster’s cartoon is a timid, mustachioed man named Caspar Milquetoast who, as Webster described him, “walks softly and gets hit by a big stick.”
In his book “The Comics,” Coulton Waugh describes Milquetoast as “so sickening that many of his fans wonder why they go on reading.” p. 78. He goes on to posit that maybe we keep reading because within each of us is a little Milquetoast.
We are too lazy to face difficult biting issues; we excuse ourselves by thinking we are good-natured. Our soft, well-fed bodies shrink before a zero wind; we retreat to an overstuffed chair and fight the storm via an adventure book. Such weaknesses link us at once to Caspar; through these he catches our attention. Then by cleaver convention, he hands us a sudden backhanded compliment.
This convention is simply that he acts with a timidity far in excess of that of the average man. We would not be as puling as that, we think, and we are quite right. In this realization, we glow with a happy, suddenly inflated ego. We are quite pleased with ourselves after a Timid Soul reading, and look forward to an equal glow tomorrow and next Sunday.
Id. I think Waugh nailed it. I like this comic because it’s funny and because it makes me feel like less of a milquetoast. However, when I really begin an honest assessment of how I tend to act, I find that my personality aligns more closely with Milquetoast than I like to admit.
Caspar Milquetoast is a push-over and sometimes I’m Caspar Milquetoast.
Here’s some more Milquetoast for the road: