Welcome to the newest edition of The Why. “Why is someone who is feeling great “on cloud nine”? Good question. (OK, it’s a little “happy” but still it beats answering those questions about your odder, intimate inquiries. Seriously? We thought “Dirty Swirly” was the nickname for a storm cloud, mmmkay?)
While there is a meteorological “cloud 9”, the answer to this question is not as simple as some sources would have you believe. The International Cloud Atlas first published in 1896, classified clouds by number according to their altitude. Cloud 9 was any cloud that was under 50,000 feet. “0” was the highest and “10”was fog.
Our guest speaker, Cabbagehead, poster on Strange Questions confirms this and adds that “at some point the US Weather Bureau used its own number classification system, with a cloud nine being a high cumulonimbus cloud anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 feet above sea level.” (This is why some folks think of actual clouds when they hear the “on cloud 9” phrase.)
Cabbagehead agrees that the history of this phrase “is somewhat obscure and no solid connection can be made between the weather classification and the saying.” He notes: “What we do know is that the first numbered cloud was cloud seven, referring to the Judaic seventh heaven where God commands the angels and watches over the souls of the righteous. “
The Phrase Finder specifies that it is referenced in “The Dictionary of American Slang, 1960, which was the first printed definition of the term. ‘Cloud seven – completely happy, perfectly satisfied; in a euphoric state’. This early preference for seven as the significant number may have been influenced by the existing phrase ‘seventh heaven’.”
Additionally, as early as the 1930s the phrase “on cloud 8” referred to someone who was drunk or giddy. “On cloud 9” goes back to the end of WWII and originated in the US. From there it would be carried on to Canada and what’s now the UK. The Phrase Finder confirms that perhaps the earliest recorded use appears “in The Oxnard Press-Courier, August 1946.”
Numerous sources including Strange Questions and The Phrase Finder also report that the number nine was used because it’s “a lucky number and shows up in other sayings like ‘nine lives’ and ‘the whole nine yards’.” Thus, Cabbagehead agrees, we have these probable answers:
People “working with meteorological data during the war to plan battles . . . may have used ‘Cloud Nine’ to refer to someone above the storm.”
“The nine was (finally) used as it was considered lucky referring back to either cloud seven or cloud eight.” Nine was luckier than seven and much luckier than eight.
Why is someone who is feeling great “on cloud nine”? Now you know.
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