Last night there was some discussion of the phrase ‘when the sun is over the yardarm’ and none of us were sure what a yardarm or even a yard is. I suspected that there were part of the rigging of a sailing ship, but wasn’t sure which part.
I now know that a yard is a spar, or long piece of wood or metal attached to the mast of a sailing ship to which the sails are attached, and that a yardarm is the end of a yard (see photo).
The phrase ‘over the yardarm’ refers to the practise of officers on sailing ships of waiting until the sun appeared to above a particular yardarm before having their lunch or first alcoholic drink of the day. In summer in the north Atlantic this would be at about 11am. This became the time when the sailors received their first ration of rum, and the officers stuck to this time even when ashore. The expression spread to landlubbers and is still quite widely used, especially in North America. On land the sun appears over the proverbial yardarm at around 5pm. It first appeared in print in Rudyard Kipling’s From Sea to Sea in 1899. [from World Wide Words and Wikipedia].