“Mollycoddle” means to spoil or overindulge someone, an extreme form of “coddle.”

The word “coddle” has a long history. It was recorded in print in Jane Austen’s Emma: “Be satisfied with doctoring and coddling yourself.” But before that it may have meant to “boil gently” as in coddling an egg. When I was a kid, I always wondered how to coddle an egg. Did one cuddle it in a tea towel or what? It was a shock to discover the recipe for coddling an egg instructed one to boil it. That certainly wasn’t how I wanted to be coddled!

The sense of heating is linked to “caudle,” an old word meaning a warm drink of thin gruel mixed with sweet, spiced wine or ale, given chiefly to sick people.

Mollycoddle was mostly used to describe a man who had been over-protected as a child and made into a milksop or effeminate. For example, William Makepeace Thackeray wrote in Pendennis in 1849: “You have been bred up as a molly-coddle, Pen, and spoilt by the women.”

“Molly” is the pet name for someone called Mary. But, from the early 17th century, it was also used to describe a criminal or a prostitute, as a moll or molly. Later, an American gangster’s girl was also called a moll. And, as molly, it was also a common 18th century name for a homosexual man, often in the form “Miss Molly,” and a molly house was a male brothel.

  One thought on “mollycoddle

  1. August 14, 2019 at 10:00 pm

    Interesting post, Lea! From cooking eggs to prostitution. Language is fascinating.


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