I searched the word milquetoast and found out that it is a very pejorative term used in American English (after a cartoon character- Casper Milquetoast) to refer to someone of an unusually meek, bland, soft or submissive nature, who is easily overlooked, written off, and who may also appear overly sensitive, timid, indecisive or cowardly (Wikipedia); the equivalent of a pipsqueak.
I’m quite taken aback and find it difficult to understand the connection between the word milk - originally associated with kindness and humanness, namely in Shakespeare’s work (milk of human kindness & milky gentleness )- and the negative attributes mentioned above.
My questions are:
How did this shift in meaning occur, and what’s the connection between milk and the negative meaning it acquired? Are there other words or expressions referring to the pejorative use of the word milk in English (American or other varieties of English)?
Milk of human kindness
A phrase from Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, meaning humane feeling, concern for other people: “Everyone agreed that Houston was a brilliant thinker and an excellent lawyer, but some people worried that he lacked the milk of human kindness.”