1708, "curl-like fringe or tuft," from Latin cirrus "a lock of hair, tendril, curl, ringlet of hair; the fringe of a garment." In meteorology, in reference to light, fleecy clouds, attested from 1803; so called from fancied resemblance of shape.
Old English clud "mass of rock, hill," related to clod.
The modern sense "rain-cloud, mass of evaporated water visible and suspended in the sky" is a metaphoric extension that begins to appear c. 1300 in southern texts, based on similarity of cumulus clouds and rock masses. The usual Old English word for "cloud" was weolcan (see welkin). In Middle English, skie also originally meant "cloud." The last entry for cloud in the original rock mass sense in Middle English Compendium is from c. 1475.
The four fundamental types of cloud classification (cirrus, cumulus, stratus, nimbus) were proposed by British amateur meteorologist Luke Howard (1772-1864) in 1802.
Meaning "cloud-like mass of smoke or dust" is from late 14c. Figuratively, as something that obscures, darkens, threatens, or casts a shadow, from c. 1300; hence under a cloud (c. 1500). In the clouds "removed from earthly things; obscure, fanciful, unreal" is from 1640s. Cloud-compeller translates (poetically) Greek nephelegereta, a Homeric epithet of Zeus.
early 15c., "overspread with clouds, cover, darken," from cloud (n.). From 1510s as "to render dim or obscure;" 1590s as "to overspread with gloom." Intransitive sense of "become cloudy" is from 1560s. Related: Clouded; clouding.