In a meeting an Italian told a puzzled English audience: "It's another pair of sleeves".

It's an Italian way of saying: "it's another thing", or "this new argument is something different or off topic". The phrase could be used to remark that the new argument is something different or off topic. I don't think it can be used for pointing something unique.

In the context of the meeting it was used to note that the new argument was about a completely different thing with no connection with the previous one. The expression comes from the medieval use of interchangeable sleeves in woman dress.

There is some similar colorful way of saying this meaning ?

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    We have a similar saying in French ("C'est une autre paire de manches") which means some situation is much more complicated than another or simply cannot be compared to the other.
    – SolarBear
    Aug 9, 2016 at 14:26
  • i have added some more explanation. For italian reader there is a wikipedia link explaining the idiom: it.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%88_un_altro_paio_di_maniche
    – maborg
    Aug 9, 2016 at 15:26
  • quick note of signification: sleeves used to come separated from the shirt's body, and you would change sleeves according to the task or the circumstances. Changing sleeves means you would be doing something different.
    – njzk2
    Aug 9, 2016 at 18:50
  • 2
    This saying is also used in Dutch language. We use it to indicate that somethings is different and harder to solve. In context: you've solved a mathematical equation. Someone asks: "Can you solve this similar equation (same catergory of equation, but more complex". Answer: "That's another pair of sleeves" to indicate it's kind of the same equation, but it's fron a different level because it's way more complex to solve.
    – user40030
    Aug 10, 2016 at 4:49
  • 1
    In German, it's another pair of boots, or they are two different pairs of boots.
    – Mawg
    Aug 11, 2016 at 12:14

14 Answers 14


In British English, you can indicate that two subjects, things or situations are completely different by saying about one of them:

That's another kettle of fish
That's a different kettle of fish

It can be used verbatim, on its own, in various circumstances. If, for example, somebody brings up a subject that, in your opinion, is nothing to do with the current topic of conversation.

It can also be used to emphasise that the second subject is considerably more demanding than the first, for example:

Lend you a hundred pounds? No problem: but ten thousand pounds? That's a different kettle of fish altogether!

You can also use it to make it clear that you consider two things or situations are completely different. Here are two examples:

Practical (or everyday) intelligence seems to be a different kettle of fish from academic intelligence Mechanisms of everyday cognition

When it's your own [son], that's a different kettle of fish. A beautiful death

  • 1
    Too bad the OP hasn't given any more details yet, as the original phrase could be interpreted two ways. Yours, saying that this new topic is random and came out of nowhere, and the other one that could mean that something does not compare to something else because it is remarkable or unique. We need more context.
    – MorganFR
    Aug 9, 2016 at 11:34
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    @maborg: agreed. It is saying that two subjects, things or situations are not the same as each other: it does not imply that either is unique.
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 9, 2016 at 15:38
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    @JavaLatte Un altro paio di maniche means that two things are different, but usually the second one is seen as much more complex then the first. So I'm not sure whether your answer really conveys this meaning. Aug 9, 2016 at 19:45
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    @MassimoOrtolano, One of the usages is indeed when there is a difference in degree, for example the second situation is more difficult than the first. If you asked me for advice about various repairs your car, I might say "Change the spark plugs? No problem... but replace a piston? That's a different kettle of fish altogether!". Another example: "Lend you 50 pounds? no problem. but lend you five thousand? That's a different kettle of fish!"
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 9, 2016 at 20:18
  • 2
    It's not uncommon to hear variations on this one - "a different barrel of monkeys" is common, but I've heard many fitting the pattern "a different [odd container] of [odd animal or item]". Some people also cross it over with sayings like "a different ball game" to create even weirder sayings, but that's a whole different bucket of fruitbats. Aug 10, 2016 at 9:11

The first thing that came to mind was "That's a whole new ball game" or "That's a different ball game", but that saying is primarily used for situations and not things. As JavaLatte mentioned, this is more common in AmE than BrE. There are some variations on the phrase because "ball game" has come to mean a state of affairs, or a situation.

Oh, you want ME to guide you down Death River instead of hiring someone else to do it. That's a whole new ball game.

If you wanted to talk about how something was completely different from something else, you might use "a different ball of wax". The is usually used when something might seem the same, but is actually really different. For example:

Melissa Etheridge had already been raising two children, so she was no novice parent when her twins were born last October.

But the new additions, she tells PEOPLE, have turned out to be "a whole different ball of wax."

The link to the People article (http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20058634,00.html) that was the source of the quote above is dead.

  • 3
    "A whole new ballgame" originated in the 1960s, and rapidly overtook the use of "a different kettle of fish" in the United States. It is used in the UK, but it seems unlikely that it will catch up with "a different kettle of fish". books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 9, 2016 at 15:45
  • 3
    I think "a whole new ball game" has additional meaning, particularly that the new element might not so much be orthogonal to the original one, but it is, or creates a situation, of a different order of magnitude, or a much larger scope that it was originally. "Sending an unmanned probe into orbit was quite a technical feat in the 50's, but when Nasa decided on a fleet of reusable space shuttles, that was a whole new ball game"
    – Patrice M.
    Aug 10, 2016 at 23:52

The first thing that pops into my mind is

That's a horse of a different color.

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    I was going to say a mule of a another color but that's a different ball of wax.
    – EllieK
    Aug 9, 2016 at 15:37
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    I've never heard this in my life. Then again, I'm 23, maybe it's an older expression? Aug 12, 2016 at 5:31
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    @ChrisCirefice You really should watch the Wizard of Oz. Aug 12, 2016 at 13:41

In spoken American English you have that's a whole 'nother story, with emphasis on 'whole'. This same structure can be applied to some of the other answers here, such as "that's a whole 'nother ball game". See http://grammarist.com/usage/a-whole-nother/ .

In fact, using this structure you could probably even get away with a literal translation: "but that's a whole 'nother pair of sleeves." So long as the emphasis was placed correctly people would totally get the meaning (and might even be tickled by the outlandish spin) even (or especially) if they'd never heard the 'pair of sleeves' idiom before.

  • 1
    Or "a whole 'nother can of worms", if the unrelated topic is also really complicated.
    – Jason C
    Aug 12, 2016 at 0:04

A slightly less common variant is "a whole nuther ball of wax" (with the misspelled "nuther" instead of "other"). It is definitely colorful...

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    Looks like @ColleenV beat me to the phrase... but without the colorful misspelling of nuther. I'll stand by my hick-oriented colorful phrasing!
    – Ghotir
    Aug 9, 2016 at 16:51
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    The more answers, the better, especially when they're colorful ;) I didn't notice your answer when I edited mine to include it.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 10, 2016 at 2:14
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    +1, but it should likely be "a whole nother..." Historically it was a nother and then it shifted to an other and then to another. As a side note, the whole infix is the rare non-expletive infix. (The only one I can think of off the top of my head.) Aug 12, 2016 at 18:49
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    @MichaelDeardeuff I had to look up "non-expletive infix." (The "non-expletive" part I knew - it was the "infix" part I was curious about.) Learn something new every day...
    – Ghotir
    Aug 12, 2016 at 19:08

If I am not mistaken, the original Italian expression is È un’altro paio di maniche and corresponds to C’est une autre paire de manches in French and Dat is een ander paar mouwen in Dutch.

There are several ways to translate this into English, e.g.

  • that’s a different kettle of fish;
  • that’s a horse of a different colour.

(For some other Italian expressions, see Italian expressions that you won’t believe exist.)


It’s not as colorful as the idioms with the fish, horse, wax and other balls, but “it’s beside the point” is a common phrase that means that a statement or issue is unimportant or irrelevant to the topic being discussed.

  • 1
    If I read the original question correctly, this is the answer. It seemed to be saying that some point was out of the context of an active argument, the others don't work for that at all.
    – Bill K
    Aug 12, 2016 at 19:51

Perhaps the idiom, "comparing apples and oranges" - two things which are fundamentally different.

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    Also "chalk and cheese" which redirects to "apples and oranges" on Wikipedia.
    – AdrianHHH
    Aug 10, 2016 at 11:44
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    From the question: The phrase could be used to remark that the new argument is something different or off topic. I don't think it can be used for pointing something unique. I don't think this expression matches very well what the OP is asking for.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 10, 2016 at 11:53
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    @ColleenV As an antipodean Queen's English speaker I'd consider "Apples & oranges" a reasonable choice here, if not the best one. Aug 14, 2016 at 0:20

I'm not entirely sure of the context where you'd use 'another pair of sleeves', but most of the answers seem to be about either how you'd respond to someone else deviating from the topic, or how a subject etc. might escalate.

If you find yourself changing the topic, and want to get back on topic, you might say.

But that's another story for another day.

Aside, but you may be interested, there is an English idiom about clothes. People who have more than one role in a particular context say they have that 'hat' on when something they say belongs to a specific role.

With my volunteers hat on, I definitely agree, I'd really like to see some better coffee in the break room, but with my treasurers hat on we really can't afford to upgrade the equipment.

There's no literal hat in this situation, it's purely metaphor. It's used to differentiate the motives behind different statements, and when someone is saying something to serve a particular role, as opposed to their own feelings on the matter.


Particularly if you are talking to a British person, you could simply announce:

"and now for something completely different"

Link to the 'origin'

Ngrams comparison with a whole new ball game, showing both are roughly equal, despite the population of the US being much higher than that of the UK.

  • 2
    Certainly it has a cult following, but do you think it could be used as comment on an off-topic subject? I would have thought it would be used as a way of introducing a change in subject.
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 12, 2016 at 16:33
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    As my Ngrams link shows, this is a heavily used phrased, on par with A whole new ball game, but obviously with variation by country for both. Your use of the term 'cult following' is odd. And yes, you can use it as either a segue, or as commentary on a recent segue.
    – Scott
    Aug 13, 2016 at 1:53
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    NGram is a powerful but blunt instrument: it tells you how often a word sequence is used, but not how it is used. You need to click on the links at the bottom of the graph and check a few instances of usage: if you find ones that match your theory, copy a couple of sentences and their links into your answer. Cult following? Hell yeah! Nerdy adolescents glued to the box for an hour every week, unable to go a whole day without saying "this parrot is dead!" or "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK".
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 13, 2016 at 7:20
  • +100 for the link to monty pythons
    – Vickel
    Dec 31, 2022 at 1:47

A simple way to say this is, "that's a different conversation," or "that's a different discussion."

An idiomatic English expression is, "That's a horse of a different color."

That is, the topic just introduced is unrelated to the one immediately preceding.


Another common way to say this is "Neither here nor there"

Cliché of no consequence or meaning; irrelevant and immaterial.

Whether you go to the movie or stay at home is neither here nor there. Your comment—though interesting—is neither here nor there.

  • 1
    Your suggestion certainly fits the off topic idea, but not some of the other possible usages.
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 12, 2016 at 16:26

It isn't in the same ballpark is an expression that means that two things are not of similar nature. It is often used when comparing numbers, but not exclusively.

A more colorful version that you could use comes in the form of a quote from the movie Pulp Fiction: It is not the same ballpark, it is not the same league, it is not even the same sport.

(Note: I have omitted a couple of, ahem, colorful adjectives from this quote).


Another related idiom is "It's a whole different animal." Animal, in this case, being this definition of the word:

Animal - 6. thing: E.g. 'A perfect job? Is there any such animal?'

So, in other words, the phrase is "It's a whole different thing."

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    Welcome to ELL. A good answer usually includes some examples or references, for example real sentences that contain the expression that you are suggesting. You can find these, and much more, using Google Ngram: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 10, 2016 at 18:00
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    I thought this one too, as in, "that's a whole different beast".
    – Jason C
    Aug 12, 2016 at 0:01

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