Jargon Genesis: On Cloud Nine

My question is, why nine? Why not cloud two or forty-four or six hundred thirty-seven? It seems we’ll never know with certainty why “on cloud nine” was selected to refer to a very, very happy person, but I have a theory that could make the numerical selection less arbitrary. First, let’s dispel some myths.

Some have erroneously stated that cloud nine traces back to the US Weather Bureau’s classification from the 1950’s, the level of the fluffy cumulonimbus. But since there were ten levels by the bureau’s definition, why would someone who is supremely happy be a level below the highest? I’m afraid I wouldn’t have an adequate superlative to describe happiness on level ten, if that were the case.

Another error is to claim cloud nine originated from one of the stages along the way to enlightenment for a Bodhisattva. Once again, though, this is a ten level process. If we were to accept this theory as true, I would assert that “the whole nine yards” originated from American football! 1st and 9 anybody?

As it turns out, the use of the number nine is a recent edition of this phrase. In 1935, Albin Jay Pollock published The Underworld Speaks: An Insight to Vice—Crime—Corruption. He wrote, “Cloud eight, befuddled on account of drinking too much liquor.”

Then in an article in Time magazine on November 8, 1954, we read, “He’s way out on Cloud 7.”

And in 1956 Sam Ross wrote this phrase in The Hustlers: “That stuff is way up on Cloud Thirty-nine.”

My theory is that nine was chosen due to its use in other phrases like “the whole nine yards” and “dressed to the nines.” But that’s just speculation.

I aim to use this phrase with whichever number suits my fancy in the moment. Today, I’m on cloud fifty-five point three six.