The line comes from The Old Man At The Bridge By Ernest Hemingway.Here is the line:

It was Easter Sunday and the Fascists were advancing toward the Ebro.It was a gray overcast day with a low ceiling so their planes were not up


Ceiling refers to “altitude of the base of a cloud layer” according to the OED.

Ceiling /ˈsiːlɪŋ /
▸ noun

  1. the upper interior surface of a room or other similar compartment: the books were stacked from floor to ceiling.
    • an upper limit set on prices, wages, or expenditure: the government imposed a wage ceiling of 3 per cent.
    • the maximum altitude that a particular aircraft can reach: the aircraft's quoted ceiling of 24,000 feet.
    • the altitude of the base of a cloud layer.


Middle English (denoting the action of lining the interior of a room with plaster or panelling): from ceil + -ing1. ceiling (SENSE 1) dates from the mid 16th century.

  • 1
    nice answer! I've adjusted the formatting for how the Stack Exchange rendering works. – marcellothearcane Aug 20 at 12:22

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