Idiom: On cloud nineOED Definition: Extremely happyExample: I was on cloud nine when I got my exam results.
Method To My Madness
When an idiom contains a number, the search for its origin usually focuses on this. ‘On cloud nine’ is no exception. One frequently cited explanation is that the expression comes from the classification of clouds, which was introduced by the US Weather Bureau in the 1950s. This scale lists the ninth cloud as the typical, fluffy, ask-a-child-to-draw-one, cumulonimbus, which is considered to be the most attractive of all the types of cloud formations.
An alternative theory, which also focuses on the number, is that this expression originates from Buddhism. It is suggested that Cloud Nine is one of the stages that is passed through in the process of enlightenment of a Bodhisattva (one who is destined to become a Buddha).
However, critics argue that neither of these theories are very likely as both cloud classifications and stages of enlightenment have ten levels rather then nine. It seems unlikely (and there is no evidence to state otherwise) that the penultimate stage of either of these would be singled out as significant as opposed to the final one. In fact, there have been many ‘Cloud’ expressions associated with different numbers. For example, in Albin Pollock’s slang directory, The Underworld Speaks, from 1935, there is reference to ‘Cloud Seven’, which is also seen in The San Mateo Times in April 1952. In 1946, this became ‘Cloud Nine’, as seen in The Oxnard Press-Courier, in August of that year. However, around the same time, there is also written evidence of ‘Cloud Thirty-nine’, which was seen in Ross’s Hustlers in 1956:
“That stuff is way up on Cloud Thirty-nine.”
The first dictionary to cite the idiom favoured the ‘Cloud Seven’ version. The Dictionary of American Slang printed the following definition in 1960:
“Cloud seven – completely happy, perfectly satisfied; in a euphoric state.”
It has been suggested that this early preference for the number seven may be as a result of the existing phrase ‘Seventh heaven’. This expression has a similar meaning, ‘a place or state of extreme bliss’ (OED) and has traceable roots in Jewish and Islamic theology.
Despite this, since the 1980s, ‘Cloud Nine’ has been predominant. It can be seen in popular culture, and has been used as the title for several music albums, including, those by The Temptations and George Harrison. Yet, it is not clear whether this usage has made it popular, or whether it became more popular by itself and this is the reason why it was chosen as the album title.
As with all areas of language, idioms continue to develop and change over time. A further example of this is that it is now possible to hear people referring to themselves as being on ‘Cloud Ten’. This makes us wonder if this expression is one that will continue to evolve and increase in magnitude. When we are in the autumn of our lives, will we be ‘On cloud seventy-nine’?