What's all this got to do with the price of eggs? / price of tea in China / not for all the tea in China

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Oct 15 12:57:41 UTC 2011

Resending the message in two parts--was initially rejected for being too

====Part I

what's that got to do with the price of ------? --  a1860 --> 1848 [same
quote] --> 1832
what's that got to do with the price of eggs? -- 1920 --> 1900
not for all the tea in China --  1937 --> 1895 -->? 1817 [related]
what's this got to do with the price of tea in China/"proverbial" price
of tea in China -- new --> 1953
+nuances and variations


The line "What's all this got to do with the price of eggs?" is offered
by Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948, at about 27 minutes).
By then, the question already had quite a history both in the "egg"
version and in the generic version (any commodity other than eggs, e.g.,
wheat, cotton).

Consumer Guide Index. Volumes 3 and 4. December 193?-March 1938
p. 274
> Current among impertinent small boys 15 years ago was the impudent
> question, "What does that have to do with the price of eggs?" Current
> question of bewildered milk consumers today, intent on finding out the
> whys and wherefores of milk price is, "What /does/ have to do with the
> price of milk?"

That would put the expression to 1923.

The Nassau Literary Magazine (Princeton). Volume 78(2). June 1922
Dialogue Between Editor and Headache. p. 69
> /Headache. /Ah, my boy, I know you pretty well still--and I'll have to
> see you again.
> /Editor. /Gone, huh? Now what the deuce has all that to do with the
> price of eggs?

The Ashes of Achievement. By Frank A. Russell. New York: 1922
p. 93
> "The theater!" he snorted, contemptuously. '' Don't talk to me about
> the theater in Australia."
> "Pretty good Bhows, Stines, whatever you may say. I've seen plenty of
> playa put on here just as well as they do it on the other side. And
> you can't say you don't get the best."
> "Suppose we do, what the hell's that got to do with the price of eggs?
> We want more competition. ..."

The expression might have had an early peak in 1922-3, but there are
earlier hits.


Another strange one in 1917 (reversed):

The Pennsylvania Railroad System Information for the Employes and the
Public. January 12, 1917
A Little Side Light on the Price of Eggs. p. 3-4
> We hear a good deal nowadays about the high cost of living, and quite
> frequently, although contrary to reason, it is blamed on railroad
> rates. F'reight rates are from two-thirds to three-quarters lower than
> they were in the good old days wheneggs sold for 12 cents a dozen. In
> those days farmers did not have automobiles, and the hired, man worked
> from 4 A.M. to sunset for a nominal sum per month and his keep. That
> may have had something to do with the price of eggs.

But the off little expression goes back further:

National Journal. Volume 13(2). November 1900
The Lunatic of Gainsville. By Charles Tenney Jackson. p. 73/1
> "If these dull simpletons knew what it was to be a lunatic," thought
> John Rodgers, "there wouldn't be enough sane chaps to put the rest of
> us in the asylum!"
> Jim Kelsey stared at his employer in the store in dumb amazement, for
> the merchant slapped him on the back; cracked a joke with the farmer's
> pretty wife; his hat on the back of his head, a cigar between his teeth.
> "Well, I'll be dummed!" murmured Jim, "him smokin'? What'll Mary say?
> I'll jest natchelly be--"
> An irritable old woman with a basket of eggs came in, sniffing the
> pickle tubs as she haggled over the price, as usual. "I can get eleven
> cents a dozen at Marsh's" she snapped to the urbane merchant who
> refused to give but ten.
> "I may be a lunatic," thought John Rodgers, "but what has that to do
> with the price of eggs?

Is it possible that this piece generated this particular line?

OED has a generic line "What's that got to do with the price of ----?"
Although the whole batch goes back to 1860, the "price of eggs" is
listed from 1928.

> 4. 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?'

It's easy to push the early date back by one year, although the satire
becomes more heavy-handed.

The Home Missionary. May 1859
"Brother, you must Squeeze." p. 19/1
> He next proceeded to the farmer, and asked for a bushel of wheat. The
> farmer said ho should have it, but it would cost him eight shillings
> and sixpence. "No, no, brother," replied the minister. "'You must
> squeeze; the times are hard.' I will give you as much as I can at the
> end of the month, after seeing what the collections will be." "What
> has that to do with the price of wheat ?" exclaimed the farmer. "I
> have a great rent to pay next month, and I do not know how to bring
> this to bear, between the wages, the tithes, and the payments."

This piece appears to have been derived from Evangelical publications a
decade or so earlier (another in 1853, also citing "a Welsh magazine":
http://goo.gl/Y7BWM )

Baptist Reporter and Missionary Intelligencer. Volume III, New Series.
London: April 1846
Squeezing a Preacher. To the Editor of the Baptist Reporter. [Signed,
"Elephant", Sea Side.] p. 176/2
> Dear Sir,--The substance of the following letter appeared in the Welsh
> Baptist Magazine, for February, 1845, and as the sin against which it
> is directed is by no means confined to the Welsh churches, but is
> sometimes found in English ones, perhaps its publication in our
> language may be of service. ...

The Oberlin Evangelist. Vol. 3(15). Oberlin, Ohio: July 22, 1846
[Signed, "Elfpaant".] p. 117/1 <-- [As much as I tried to find the
signature to be "Elephant", I cannot do so in good conscience. Perhaps
someone will absolve me of this task.]

In the "squeeze" story, the price of wheat was meaningful--it was not
stated merely in jest. But it also appears similar to another version
that had also been turned into a joke in London.

Household Words. Conducted by Charles Dickens. Volume 10(237). October
7, 1854
p. 192/2
> A poor woman entered the general shop, and asked for a pound of
> candles, dipt fourteens. The price demanded being a halfpenny or a
> penny more than usual, she anxiously inquired the reason.
> " 'Tis all along of the war, ma'am," was the reply.
> " Yettun what has the war to do with the price of my pound of dips ? "
> "Ah, 'tis because of our fighting with Roosia, the price of the tallow
> is raised."
> "Why then," exclaimed the purchaser fervently, "bad luck to the
> Roosians that they can't light by daylight, and not be rising the
> price of the candles upon us !"

A variation can be found in 1847 (reversal).

Speech of Mr. [Andrew] Stewart of Pennsylvania, on the Three Million
Appropriation Bill, and the Mexican War. Delivered at the House of
Representatives of the U. S., Feb. 13, 1847
p. 13
> Mr. S. said, after the Yankee fashion, he would answer the gentleman's
> question by asking him another: Did the tariff of '46 produce the
> potato-rot in Ireland ? Did it blight all the wheat crops of Europe,
> and produce a superabundant crop here ? If it did, then the
> gentleman's notion was right, but not otherwise. He would tell the
> gentleman, that the tariff of '46 had about as much to do with the
> price of grain, as it had with the rising and setting of the sun--no more.

There /is/ a connection! Here's another hit from 1859. Note the
juxtaposition of a religious concept and "the price of wheat".

Gilbert Midhurst, M. P. By Charles F. Howard. Volume 1. London: 1859
p. 81
> He who stints the poor is a revolutionist. Statistics prove
> incontrovertibly that a lack of bread always accompanies an increased
> proportion of crime, and, as a matter of course, of popular
> discontent. If it can be shown that the opinions so maligned tend to
> heighten the price of wheat, then.can it be truly said that they are
> 'submissive,' 'levelling,' 'innovating'; but not until then. What has
> the doctrine of Original Sin to do with the price of flour? Does a
> dispute upon Hell and Purgatory affect the Corn Market? If so it is
> militant to conservation.

There are earlier instances, but they all appear to be quite literal. In
fact, in each instance, the sentence that follows explains the exact
nature of the apparently unexpected connection. The Baptist snippets
from 1845-1859 show some relevance to the subject, but not specifically
to the price--the larger point has little to do with pricing of wheat,
etc. In the final transformation--into Pythagoras vs. cotton--the two
things being compared, have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

Aha! But I can push the date on the 1860 quote further back!! No author
is listed, however. Still, there is also an edition of 1852--with the
same text--that is a collection of Theodore Parker's speeches and
sermons, so there is no question of authorship.
[ http://goo.gl/BGVoU ]

Massachusetts Quarterly Review. No. V. Boston: December 1848
The Political Destination of America, and the Signs of the Times. p. 7
> Tradition does not satisfy us. The American scholar has no folios in
> his library. The antiquary unrolls his codex, hid for eighteen hundred
> years in the ashes of Herculaneum, deciphers its fossil wisdom,
> telling us what great men thought in the bay of Naples, and two
> thousand years ago. "What do you tell of that for?" is the answer to
> his learning. "What has Pythagoras to do with the price of cotton? You
> may be a very learned man; you can read the hieroglyphics of Egypt, I
> dare say, and know so much about the Pharaohs, it is a pity you had
> not lived in their time, when you might have been good for something;
> but you are too old-fashioned for our business, and may return to your
> dust." An eminent American, a student of Egyptian history, with a
> scholarly indignation declared, "There is not a man who cares to know
> whether Shoophoo lived one thousand years before Christ, or three."

Yet, there is another generic "what's that got..." still earlier.

The New York Mirror. Volume 9(36). March 10, 1832
p. 282/2
> Without stopping to let himself be eaten up with chagrin at these
> provoking disqualifications which beset him at every new trial, Frank
> forthwith placed himself in the counting-house of an eminent merchant,
> who had grown rich by the mere force of the instinct of saving. One
> day the old gentleman was directing him to make an entry in his
> day-book of some sale or other.
> "Is it according to reason and experience ?" asked Frank, who was
> determined to be right this time. "Does it correspond with the seven
> sciences ?"
> "The seven devils," exclaimed the merchant, whom gout and money had
> made as testy as a young belle of a rainy day. "The seven sciences,
> and reason and experience ?  What the plague have these to do with the
> price of tobacco ? I can tell you what, sir, no more of such nonsense,
> or you won't do for a counting-house."
> " I think so too," said Frank, and sliding from his high threelegged
> stool, quietly put on his hat, and was walking home, meditating on
> what he should turn his attention to next, when he was attracted by
> one of the most spruce, trim, neat, fashionable, frisky little belles
> that ever set a man dreaming of impossibilities.
> " Heavens! what an angel! I'll marry her before next Saturday, or my
> name is not Frank Hairbrain," said he, unconsciously aloud.

Unless I'm sorely mistaken, this is an example of the same expression.

Interestingly, this expression is not limited to English:

A Collection of Telugu Proverbs Translated, Illustrated and Explained.
By M. W. Carr. Madras/London: 1868
p. 239
> 1360. What has a beggar to do with the price of cotton ?

On second thought, it's not quite the same expression. ("Why should a
beggar care about the price of cotton [that he cannot afford]?") [PS:
There is an early equivalent of "like a fish needs a bicycle": 18. Like
giving a blind man a looking glass. Also, 39. Like moon light in the

====End Part I

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