The price of tea in China
Posted: 20 October 2017 12:36 AM   [ Ignore ]
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As in what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? I can’t find anything in our archive on this nor can I see it in OED, although the search was admittedly cursory. The Wikipedia entry is of no help whatsoever consisting as it does of speculation and lacking any cites at all (The usual Expression Engine problems with linking there too). Anything more concrete out there?

[ Edited: 21 October 2017 04:16 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 20 October 2017 02:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Thanks to the problems with Wikipedia entries containing blanks your link sends me to the Wikipedia entry on What.  Better, once in Wikipedia search for “price of tea”

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Posted: 20 October 2017 03:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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My guess would be that it’s a conflation of two phrases:

From the OED, tea, n. (1989:

not for all the tea in China (colloq., orig. Austral.): not at any price.

1937 E. Partridge Dict. Slang 148/1 China!, not for all the tea in, certainly not!; on no account: Australian coll.: from the 1890’s.
1943 K. Tennant Ride on Stranger ii. 19 I’m not going to stand in my girl’s light for all the tea in China.
1958 J. Cannan And be Villain vi. 137 She wouldn’t get into a sidecar or on a pillion for all the tea in China.
1978 Radio Times 11 Mar. 25/5 I wouldn’t change Newcastle for all the tea in China… It’s a lovely place to live in.

And again, the OED, price, n. (March 2007):

what’s that got to do with the price of ——? and variants: what is the relevance or importance of that?

a1860 T. Parker Speeches, Addresses, & occas. Serm. (1867) II. 208 What has Pythagoras to do with the price of cotton?
1920 E. St. V. Millay Aria da Capo in R. Shay & P. Loving Fifty Contemp. One-act Plays 434 Can’t act! Can’t act! La, listen to the woman! What’s that to do with the price of furs?—You’re blonde, Are you not?
1928 Youth’s Companion 16/1 What’s that got to do with the price of eggs?
1949 N.Y. Times 1 Sept. 25/2 Someone has stolen the Blarney Stone and an American insurance investigator has been sent to find out who. (Obviously this doesn’t stand to reason, but what’s that got to do with the price of ale?)
1998 P. Grace Baby No-eyes (1999) xxxvii. 286 ‘You’ve got to get rid of me some time, you’re thirteen.’ ‘What’s that got to do with the price of fish?’

My guess would be that what’s that got to do with the price of tea in China is not all that old, from the latter half of the twentieth century. BYU’s Corpus of Contemporary American English has a cite from 1992, but I’m sure it’s older than that by some decades.

I found this in Linnaeus’s Elements of the Science of Botany, London, 1809, 56 (Google Books), although I’m sure it’s a random collocation of the words and has little to do with the modern phrase:

If the Europeans were entirely to cease from trading in it, it would very little affect the price of tea in China.

I’ve also found a number of instances of “price of tea in China” in British parliamentary debates from the nineteenth century, but again, unrelated to the phrase (unless we suddenly find antedatings going back over a century).

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Posted: 20 October 2017 04:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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More to come. I have to get to work, but I’ve found a number of mid-twentieth century newspaper citations of “price of tea in China” to refer to detailed discussion of an esoteric discussion. None in the form of a question though. I’ll keep looking and post them later tonight.

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Posted: 20 October 2017 05:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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My guess would be that what’s that got to do with the price of tea in China is not all that old, from the latter half of the twentieth century. BYU’s Corpus of Contemporary American English has a cite from 1992, but I’m sure it’s older than that by some decades.

Really?  Because I don’t think I’ve seen or heard it at all (though I’m very familiar with the “for all the tea in China” antecedent); that obviously doesn’t mean it didn’t/doesn’t exist, but it suggests it hasn’t been widespread.  (Or maybe it’s a UK thing?)

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Posted: 20 October 2017 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’ve always heard it, “What does that have to do with the price of peas in China?”

“Tea in China” actually makes more sense.

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Posted: 20 October 2017 09:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Of course! I’d forgotten about turnips and that is the more common phrase. The China variant is alive and well though and the instance that prompted my thread was from an American entertainment site. I would hazard a guess that it’s more common in the UK however. I’m pretty sure Dave has nailed this.

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Posted: 20 October 2017 09:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Dave Wilton - 20 October 2017 03:58 AM


I found this in Linnaeus’s Elements of the Science of Botany, London, 1809, 56 (Google Books), although I’m sure it’s a random collocation of the words and has little to do with the modern phrase:

If the Europeans were entirely to cease from trading in it, it would very little affect the price of tea in China.

Not really a random phrase, that part of the text is specifically aimed at the effect of the European demand on China’s home tea market.  However agreed it is not used here in the sense we are discussing.

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Posted: 20 October 2017 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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My experience is different from LH’s.  In my youth, the standard ending (in my conversational community) for the rhetorical “what’s that got to do with the price of...” was “...tea in China?”.

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Posted: 21 October 2017 04:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Faldage - 20 October 2017 02:36 AM

Thanks to the problems with Wikipedia entries containing blanks your link sends me to the Wikipedia entry on What.  Better, once in Wikipedia search for “price of tea”

Thank you for the heads-up, Faldage, I’ve deleted the troublesome link.

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Posted: 21 October 2017 06:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I defer to Doctor T.  I clearly had a deprived childhood.

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Posted: 22 October 2017 04:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Here are the citations I mentioned before. They’re not in Jeopardy question format, but they use the price of tea in China as an esoteric subject for discussion:

Deitch, Joseph. “Better Than a Million Words: Taking Foreign Visitors and Students.” Christian Science Monitor, 6 Nov 1948, p. WM3.

You shake hands, and the next thing you know, you and the other Lockwoods are hearing firsthand, about home life in Bombay or the price of tea in China. At the same time, your new friend gets a something-to-write-home-about picture of American family life.

Scott, Lillian. “The Mariners Live As They Sing-In Harmony: The Little Godfreys.” Chicago Defender, National edition, 3 Jun 1950, p. 13.

[Photo caption] Some deep discussion on the price of tea in China goes on. But Jim Lewis, in photo at left, seems to know the answer.

Kaufman, Michael T. “World Trade Talks: Have-Nots Demand a Fair Share.” New York Times, 17 May 1976, p. 14.

The issue of commodities, which has everything to do with the price of tea in China, is the key.

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