What's that got to do with the...?
"What's that got to do with the -- ?" is an expression denoting an irrelevance or non sequitur in the current discussion.
A common form "what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?", is a retort to an irrelevant suggestion. This facetious usage implies that the topic under discussion might as well be the price of tea in China for all the relevance the speaker's suggestion bears on it. It has been said[by whom?] that this expression has stemmed from economists, who describe everything economic as affecting everything else, trying to find an expression which denotes the farthest logical connection from their current economic focus, in a sort of butterfly effect. In this way, the price of tea in China was used to denote the farthest possibility. It can also be used to denote an irrelevant topic.
In Chekhov's 1903 play, The Cherry Orchard, one of the characters, Lopakhin, says in Act 4, "I guess that doesn't have much to do with the price of eggs."
In the United States, the phrase "What's that got to do with the price of eggs?" has been in use since the 1920s. The variance "of tea in China" seems to date from the 1940s and may be influenced by the idiom All the Tea in China. The British equivalent is "What's that got to do with the price of fish?" or "What's that got to do with the price of meat?". A Scottish variation is "What's that got to do with the price of cheese?", and a Northern Irish variation is "What's that got to do with the price of a sausage?".
Another explanation of the phrase's origin is that in the 19th century the price for tea in England was the highest when the first ship with the newly harvested tea from the tightly controlled Chinese markets came in. So for the ship owners it was important to be as fast as possible back to England with the load, otherwise the cost of the passage might not be recovered from the sale of the tea. Thus there were real races (the tea clipper races) where the sail ships managed to travel the whole distance from China to England in about 80 to 90 days.
The difference in prices from the first load to the later ones was so high that the original price which was paid for the tea in China was quite unimportant. So the "price of tea in China" was something that really didn't matter for the ship owners. They had to have the tea in England as fast as possible.
In Isaac Asimov's 1955 short story "Franchise," where the "election" process consists of Multivac questioning a single person to calculate the overall public opinion, it is mentioned that the only question the "voter" remembered from a three-hour-long interview was "what do you think of the price of eggs?"
"What has that got to do with the price of rice, right?" was used in the 1976 film, Network.
- Rees, Nigel (2001). Oops, Pardon, Mrs Arden!: An Embarrassment of Domestic Catch Phrases. Robson. pp. 214–5. ISBN 1-86105-440-8.
- "II. The Softening of the Hard Sciences". thewellspring.com.
- Partridge, Eric; Paul Beale (1986). A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day. Routledge. p. 518. ISBN 0-415-05916-X.