Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Usually when someone does not think your current statement has to do with the conversation at hand they can ask, "What does that have to do with the price of tea in China"?

Where did that form of statement come from?

share|improve this question
6  
A possible explanation is given in this Wikipedia article. –  Irene Apr 5 '12 at 19:03
1  
Cancan should be written as one word, or hyphenated. –  jwpat7 Apr 5 '12 at 20:21
    
@Gigili - Does this question a NARQ? If no, why? –  user19148 Apr 9 '12 at 8:49
    
I'd normally use "the price of fishcakes in Tokyo" - maybe just me... –  neil Apr 11 '12 at 14:30
    
@Carlo_R. I just noticed your reference to me. I don't I had anything to do with this question at all ever, so I'm not sure why you think I should have (at that time) responded to you. Anyway, to your 1st comment "the price of tea in china" is a common phrase in English. I didn't vote to close because I don't think it fits any of the close criteria. –  Mitch Jun 13 '13 at 2:14
add comment

4 Answers

No one here seems to have actually answered the question in terms of the origin. The phrase is believed to have begun in 19th century England where the actual price of tea in China was of interest. When someone in the British House of Commons said something others felt was irrelevant, it was met with this saying... meaning, the price of tea in China is a relevant topic, but yours is not.

share|improve this answer
    
Good answer & welcome to EL&U. While I'm not doubting your answer, do you have a reliable reference to show that this is an authoritative answer? Some substantiation for answers (where possible) is preferred on this site. Thanks. –  TrevorD Jun 12 '13 at 23:24
    
One of the other answers does answer in terms of origin by quoting a dictionary: 1940s, perhaps influenced by other phrases. / Also, Hansard is the name of the official record of what was said in the House of Commons and it's available online. Please could you locate your source? –  Hugo Jun 14 '13 at 7:43
add comment

I've never heard this precise formation: to me, it sounds like a conflation of two phrases- "What's that got to do with the price of fish?" (alternative: eggs) - which as pointed out above is really expressing surprise, and "I wouldn't do that for all the tea in China" - which is expressing extreme reluctance/aversion (and probably dates from the time when tea was an expensive enough commodity that tea-caddies came with lock, to stop the servants from pilfering it).

share|improve this answer
add comment

Eric Partridge, "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases," says this one is a variant of "What's that got to do with the price of eggs?" and has been around "since the 1940s--perhaps influenced by the expression, e.g. 'I wouldn't do that, not for all the tea in China.'" He identifies the "eggs" saying as "US: since the 1920s, if not earlier."

share|improve this answer
1  
Oddly enough, I know this phrase as "What's that got to do with the price of eggs in China" –  tanantish Jan 11 '13 at 6:05
add comment

The complete expression is actually the following question: "What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?"

The price of tea in China is completely irrelevant to the subject of conversation. So, when someone asks this question, it means they’re really surprised by the listener's comments. Effectively, they're saying:

  • Why do you say that?
  • What are you talking about?
  • What does that have to do with anything?
  • What does that have to do with what we are talking about?

The Wikipedia article Irene mentioned is pretty good.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.