Live English

Open Dictionary word of the week: milquetoast … and Count Dracula

milquetoast (noun)

a man who is timid and unassertive

The lack of masculine courage and willpower is quickly turning America’s men into milquetoasts. Where are the Patrick Henrys, the George Pattons, the Teddy Roosevelts, the Andy Jacksons, or the Harry Trumans today?

(Submitted from the United Kingdom)

My son is currently obsessed with eating food that makes him strong and avoiding food that makes him ‘die more quicker’. Although I’m impressed by this as a minimalist,  if extreme, dietary ethos, it’s challenging my knowledge of foods’ nutritional make-up. It also gets in the way of my desire to avoid thinking about shuffling off every time we have a meal. And then there’s all the philosophical questions that follow such as: Then why does daddy put sugar in his tea? Does he want to die more quicker? What do you mean death is random? Does that mean I could die NOW?! … Then, why can’t I have gin for breakfast? … oh no wait, that was me.

Anyway. This morning my son asked me if milk makes you stronger or makes you die more quicker. So, without wanting to get into all that homogenised v raw; organic v non-; skim v whole business; nor the claims of various diets for and against, I declared simply that milk does indeed make you stronger, and hoped to be spared. No rebuffs were made and the morning continued peacefully. One day though, the kid is going to come at me with Literature – I can feel it in my calcium-rich bones. Why, he will say, if milk makes you stronger is it almost always used metaphorically to insult male human beings for being weak, puny, cowardly and/or infantile? Had I not heard of the terms milk-livered, milksop, milquetoast (ok, but it’s pronounced like the two foodstuffs as is nicely illustrated in this example from Michael Quinion’s blog) and, do I not realise that milk-drinker is a terrible insult in the world of online gaming (apparently)?

Perhaps what he should do is mix his milk with blood. That takes the lily-livered element out of it, doesn’t it? And blood is what makes you ‘strong’ (ie manly) in some cultures. I think he may take to it. I’m not saying it’s anything more than coincidence, but my son does share a birthday with Bram Stoker (whose centenary is tomorrow btw), he also has a widow’s peak, a pair of unusually sharp incisors (milk teeth!) and has claimed to be nocturnal since the age of 4. And if he were a vampire, I’d be able to say those impossible words that all parents wish they could say to their children with guilt-free abandon: Don’t worry you’re not going to die. 

But I’m afraid his nature is too full of the milk of human kindness to take a bloody turn and so he must join the ranks of other mortal men who chuck milk on their cornflakes in the morning and balk at the thought of blood.  A toast to milk! And to courage and willpower for all. And to you, Bram Stoker.

Email this Post Email this Post

About the author


Laine Redpath Cole


  • Just a little question about the format of this.. As someone who doesn’t regularly read this blog and just followed an external link I’m a little confused about who wrote it, Laine Redpath Cole? Because it says “Posted by” which does not necessarily say “written by” to me. Was it submitted by someone in the UK? A user? Or is Laine Redpath Cole (great name) in the UK? – Maybe something that is just added automatically like “I just found out I have cancer. Sent from my iPhone.”

    I apologize, the problem is no doubt with me and my not being accustomed to reading blogs.

  • Hi Rebecca,

    You make a very good point and as a result I’m going to add an intro to future Open Dictionary word of the week posts. Something like: Anybody can add a word and its definition to the Open Dictionary.. Every week I choose a word from recent entries to rattle on about. Milquetoast is this week’s word.

    I hope that answers your question. Thanks for taking the time to write this feedback – it’s so useful to us!

Leave a Comment