When you’re feeling extremely happy or blissful, you might feel you’re “on cloud nine.” But what on earth does being happy have to do with clouds? And why cloud nine?
This saying, which dates back to the early 1800s, was coined during a time when clouds were a topic of conversation. It was during this time that scientists and seafarers, including amateur meteorologist Luke Howard, first began organizing clouds. By observing cloud appearance and height above ground level, they were able to categorize all clouds into the ten basic cloud types we use today: cumulus, stratus, stratocumulus, nimbostratus, cumulonimbus, altostratus, altocumulus, cirrus, cirrostratus, and cirrocumulus.
To make recording cloud observations easier, Howard and others also assigned a number from 0 to 9, to each of these ten cloud groups. According to their code abbreviations, zero represented the lowest clouds (stratus), and nine, the tallest clouds (cumulonimbus, or thunderstorm clouds). It’s from this that the expression “cloud nine” was likely born! (If you’re on cloud nine, you’ll be extremely high up, which also describes the sensation you may feel when overjoyed.)
Today’s meteorologists still learn these 0 to 9 cloud codes, but rarely ever use them. And since the numbers aren’t used in public forecasts at all, most folks don’t even know they exist and, therefore, don’t realize this is where the saying “on cloud nine” originates from.