That which the cat left on the malt heap?

Thor_Shun

Member
Chinese
I was listening to Professor Robert Bucholz's course on English history on the GreatCourses and got really puzzled by this expression:

"What about younger sons? At this point, we should remind ourselves that thanks to the laws of primogeniture, only eldest sons of an aristocratic family were guaranteed an estate. Younger sons were provided a portion, but Thomas Wilson called it “That which the cat left on the malt heap.” "

I could infer from the context that younger sons received a meager portion of the family heritage, but I'm still curious as to what this metaphor means. Any help would be appreciated.
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Mice lived in the malt heap. Cats would go there to chase and kill and eat them. All they left behind would be the inedible bits — heads, tails, bones? So that which the cat left on the malt heap is the stuff that’s left behind after the best has all gone.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    It probably a references the traditional English poem/nursery rhyme, and thus everyone would know what cats did...

    This is the house that Jack built. (This Is the House That Jack Built - Wikipedia)
    This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
    This is the rat that ate the malt
    That lay in the house that Jack built.
    This is the cat
    That killed the rat that ate the malt
    That lay in the house that Jack built.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    There was also apparently a common saying “as safe as a mouse in a malt heap” (one of many “safe as” expressions!).
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    It probably a references the traditional English poem/nursery rhyme, and thus everyone would know what cats did...
    I've never heard any version of this nursery that has "malt" in it. It's about rats and cheese in the US.
     
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