Pronounced "the hay-penny place" and often spelled "the ha'penny place". I've decided to node this under the above title as this is how it appears in Ulysses, which was the earliest source I was able to find.
This is a very common Irish figure of speech, used to indicate the insignificance of a one entity with respect to another. It is most commonly employed in one of the following forms:
- "h2g2 is only in the halfpenny place compared to Everything2."
- "h2g2 is a good site, but E2 puts it into the halfpenny place."
Both of these examples mean that H2G2, whatever its merits in its own right, pales into insignificance when compared with the superior E2. (This comparison chosen only because it is likely to be uncontroversial here on E2). This comparative usage is the most common, but the phrase can also be applied to a single entity to indicate lowliness or unworthiness.
Joyce makes use of the phrase in the Aeolus episode of Ulysses, which features a discussion amongst newspapermen:
-- They're only in the hook and eye department, Myles Crawford said. Psha! Press and the bar! Where have you a man now at the bar like those fellows, like
Whiteside, like Isaac Butt, like silvertongued O'Hagan? Eh? Ah, bloody nonsense! Only in the halfpenny place!
A more recent example is from Neil Jordan's film The Crying Game:
JODY: Hurling's a fast game, isn't it, Fergus?
FERGUS: The fastest.
JODY: Faster than cricket?
FERGUS: Cricket's in the halfpenny place.
I was not able to turn up much information as to the origin of this phrase, but it seems likely that it refers to the cheapest place available at a show or sporting event. It is also possible that it is related to the phrase "tuppenny ha'penny place", although this is more commonly used with the indefinite article, as in the Dish and Dishonesty episode of Blackadder the Third, in which Dunny-in-the-Wold is described as "a tuppenny-ha'penny place":
EDMUND: We must buy Dunny-on-the-Wold at once and thus control the voter. I shall need a thousand pounds.
PRINCE GEORGE: A thousand pounds? I thought you said it was a..."tuppenny ha'penny" place.
Edmund: Well, yes, sir, the land will cost tuppence-ha'penny, but there are many other factors to be considered: stamp duty, window tax, swamp insurance, hen food, dog biscuits, cow ointment -- the expenses are endless.
The redoubtable wertperch contributes one other note as regards the possible origins of the idiom, which we should ignore at our peril:
My Dad said it goes back to when a pint of good beer was a penny, and lesser places sold watered-down beer for a ha'penny