Cloud Nine

Bill Bryson, in A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003) Chapter Seventeen:

“The person most frequently identified as the father of modern meteorology was an English pharmacist named Luke Howard, who came to prominence at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Howard is chiefly remembered now for giving cloud types their names in 1803…he was an active and respected member of the Linnaean Society and employed Linnaean principles in his new scheme…

…Howard divided clouds into three groups: stratus for the layered clouds, cumulus for the fluffy ones (the word means heaped in Latin) and cirrus (meaning curled) for the high, thin feathery formations that generally presage colder weather. To these he subsequently added a fourth term, nimbus (from the Latin for cloud), for a rain cloud. The beauty of Howard’s system was that the basic components could be freely recombined to describe every shape and size of passing cloud – stratocumulus, cirrostratus, cumulonimbus, and so on…the first, much thinner edition of (the International Cloud Atlas), produced in 1896, divided clouds into ten basic types, of which the plumpest and most cushiony-looking was number nine, cumulonimbus. That seems to have been the source of the expression “to be on cloud nine”.”

“Warm air can hold more moisture than cool air, which is why tropical and summer storms tend to be the heaviest. Thus low areas tend to be associated with cloud and rain, and highs generally spell sunshine and fair weather. When two such systems meet, it often becomes manifest in the clouds. For instance, stratus clouds…happen when moisture-bearing updrafts lack the oomph to break through a level of more stable air above, and instead spread out, like smoke hitting a ceiling.”

From Ben Brantley’s review of Atlantic Theater Company’s 2015 revival of Caryl Churchill’s 1979 play, Cloud Nine, in the New York Times:

“…Ms. Churchill (“Top Girls,” “Love and Information”), one of the wisest and bravest playwrights on the planet, understands that sex is endlessly fluid, no matter the time, place or culture in which it is practiced. More than three decades ago — when “trans” as a prefix most commonly meant something to do with automobiles she dared set up camp in that hazy frontier land where the boundaries of gender and the rules of attraction blur and dissolve…”

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