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 12:58:24 UTC 2011

====Part II

Interestingly, no mention is made in the OED of the "price of tea in
China". Yet, an enterprising writer recently decided to cross the two

The Deviants. By Richmond West. Top8Press, Childersburg, Alabama: 2006
p. 151
> "What's that got to do with the price of eggs in China?" Johnny asked.

Instead of "What's that got to do with the price of tea in China?", the
OED has "not for all the tea in China". For some reason, the editors
took Partridge's word that the expression is Australian.

> 1. c. Phrases. given away with a pound of tea: see given away with a
> pound of tea at give v. Phrasal verbs 1; 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.

But the precursor phrase is given by Walter Scott more than 100 years
earlier (1817)!! And many others precede the 1937 OED borrowing from
Partridge who seems to have gotten this one wrong. Even Shackleton
mentions "all the tea in China", although, in this case, the reversal is
logical, not like "could care less"--and only one citation (1906) is

Rob Roy. Walter Scott. Parker's Edition. 1831 (1817)
p. 165
> Martha, the old housekeeper, partook of the taste of the family at the
> Hall. A toast and tankard would have pleased her better than all the
> tea in China.

The Juvenile Forget Me Not. A Christmas and New Year's Gift, Or Birthday
Present, for the Year 1830.
Prison Roses. By the Author of "Selwyn". p. 77
The Ladies' Repository. Volume 12. Boston: April 1844
Prison Roses. p. 369/2
The Leisure Hour. A Family Journal of Instruction and Recreation. No.
30. London: July 22, 1852
Prison Roses. A True Story. p. 475/2
> " ' So it was to buy tea for your grandmother you took to selling
> roses, good girl ? Here's a shilling for you instead of a sixpence;
> run to the gaol and tell Martha that Mr. Dawes, of Ashleigh, is in
> town to befriend her: it will do her more good than all the tea in
> China.'..."

http://goo.gl/x7zX3 [This copy has a clear printing date:
http://goo.gl/w1URv ]
Precepts for the preservation of health, life and happiness: medical and
moral. By Clement Carlyon. London: 1859
p. 50
> Doctor Johnson was such a lover of tea that stories are told of him
> which tend to show that he could drink tea for ever; his nerves were
> cables, and all the tea in China would have had no effect upon them.
> Neither do I think, if Dr. Johnson were alive at the present day, that
> he is exactly the person to whom it would be complimentary or prudent
> to dedicate a new edition of the Life of Lewis Cornaro.

Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine. Philadelphia: 1867-8
p. 114 [?]
> Shanghai might go to Jericho, and all the tea in China and America to
> the bottom of the Red Sea, before I would let my Lewis leave me at
> such a time," continued the little lady, waxing vehement.

Infelice: a novel. By Augusta Jane Evans. New York: 1877
p. 176
> She brought a tumbler of iced water, and a stool which she placed
> beneath his feet.
> "How delicious! worth all the tea in China! all the wine in Spain."

The Sunday at Home. No. 1478. London: August 26, 1882
The Foundlings. Chapter III. p. 533/2
> A cup of good /cafe noir/ is worth all the tea in China.

The Australasian saddler and harness maker. Volume 5(12). Melbourne/
Sydney: June 1, 1906
p. 161/2
> It would be just the same, whether the worker was a very fast or a
> very slow one--neither could do forty-eight hours in sixteen, if they
> got all the tea in China.

Yachting. New York: October, 1914
How the League Went to Sea. By John Arthur Barry. p. 176/2
> "Well," remarked Phil, "don't this beat the band! Why, damn it, some
> of 'em are eighty if they are a day, Harry! And there's one nearer a
> hundred. I'll bet all the tea in China on it."

South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-1917. By Sir
Ernest Henry Shackleton. New York: 1920 [UK: 1919]
p. 139
> We would have given all the tea in China for a lump of ice to melt
> into water, but no ice was within our reach.

Finally, one that is actually "NOT for all the tea in China". This one
may yet vindicate Partridge, because it refers to a specific oath that
appears to be Australian.

The amateur fisherman's guide. By Charles Thackeray. Sydney/London: 1895
p. 56
> How we got him up the short rope and the ladder I often marvel, but we
> did and when he got to the top of the cliffs he set off running away
> for a hundred yards, and sat down on somegrass until our laughter
> brought him back; but he said that he had registered a fearful oath
> that "not for all the tea in China would he go down again."

But how is one to distinguish between "Not for all the tea in China!"
from "I wouldn't [do X] for all the tea in China!" and from "I bet all
the tea in China!" (or, similarly, "It's worth all the tea in China!")?
And the latter two found their way into English, American and Canadian
publications--and even a couple of Australian ones ;-) [I did not
include any citations with the middle expression, but there are several
of them that can be found in the 1930s and not in Australian publications.]

The Pall Mall Magazine. 1913 [Snippet only, internal comparison confirms
the date]
> "I wouldn't have missed it for all the tea in China!" replied a voice
> from a little way off--

Five years in the Royal flying corps. James Thomas Byford McCudden. 1919
p. 41
> One extraordinary soul said that he would not have our job for all the
> tea in China.

The Charity organisation review. 1918 [Confirmed]
> A start was made; one of the men chosen had been a dock labourer;
> another came from Canada, who said he would not give the work up for
> all the tea in China!

The expression "What does it have to do with the price of tea in China?"
is a bit harder to trace because it appears to be much more recent.

[Britannica] Yearbook of science and the future: The Science Year in
Review. 1975
> In the US people are coming to terms with problems that are an order
> of magnitude larger than usual and thus are beginning to realize that
> the price of tea in China is no longer irrelevant.

This is not quite the same--this may actually be talking about the price
of tea in China affecting the US consumer. However, this may well have
been one of the sources of the phrase. But it's a reversal, apparently
contradicting a known phrase.

The compleat computer. By Dennie Van Tassel. 1976 [I am sure the date is
either correct or very close to correct--I had a Russian translation of
this book in 1979. Whether the quote is in the book is another matter.]
> The computer will give him information on federal contract awards,
> lobbyists and the current price of tea in China.

Food, fuel, and shelter:
a watershed analysis of land-use trade-offs in a semiarid region :
report of a conference, on the Front Range of Colorado, May 20-22, 1976,
Greeley, Colorado. By Timothy D. Tregarthen. 1978
> A correct answer to the question, "What does that have to do with the
> price of tea in China?" is, "something."

Air pollution and human health. By Lester B. Lave, Eugene P. Seskin,
Michael J. Chappie. 1977
> The price of tea in China may be highly correlated with the price of
> eggs in Paris, but they are obviously not causally related.

Berlo's The Process of Communication (1960) also gives a relevant
quotation in the preview, but it has not been confirmed.

> We can fail to reject the statement that A and B are not related
> (rainfall in Kansas and price of tea in China are not related), and be
> right.

[ABA] Student Lawyer. Volume 4. 1975 [The date is correct, but the text
cannot be confirmed.]
> "Firming Up Your Future" has little more relevance than the proverbial
> price of tea in China.

There is really no way to tell if this "proverbial price of tea in
China" really comes from a 1954 volume (these are often bundled together
in GB and the error rate is very high):

Hearings of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. 1954 [The
whole thing is in doubt, but there are indications that at least a part
of the volume is from 1954 and that the text is there.]
> Despite the frequency with which such assertions are made, we are
> prone to view the correlation as we would that between modern
> architecture and the proverbial "price of tea in China."

EDPACS: the EDP audit, control and security newsletter, Volumes 1-2.
1975-6 [Dates confirmed]
> The old saying "How does that affect the price of tea in China?"
> captures the heart of the pragmatic approach.

Dialogue. Volume 6. 1971 [Dates confirmed]
> I pointed that out because it is highly doubtful that the subject of
> their conversations was the price of tea in China.

The elements of digital computer programming. Edwin D. Reilly, F. D.
Federighi. 1968 [Date appears to be correct.]
> Such an instruction is called an unconditional jump because it
> commands the CPU control unit to transfer control to a specified
> memory location with no "ifs", "ands" or "buts"--regardless of the
> condition of any register or the price of tea in China.

Chicago journalism review. Volume 7. 1974 [Date appears to be correct.]
> "Chaddick gets no City contracts. No city money for any reason. I
> don't see what that has to do with the price of tea in China."

American imago. Volume 10. 1953 [Date confirmed, but the record may
include more than one volume.]
> In our discipline and training for morale we would do well to exchange
> for the "practical reminder," "What has this to do with the price of
> tea in China?," the question, "What has this to do with me"

If the date here is correct--and all indications appear to be that it
is--this quote points that even here the phrase was already known. Yet,
the two earliest citations are from 1953 and 1954 (unconfirmed), then
1960, then 1968 and increasing frequency thereafter. So the question
concerning who came up with "the price of tea in China" remains open
(for me--someone else might have already come up with the solution and I
failed to find it).


====End Part II

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