Seeing pink elephants

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"Seeing pink elephants" is a euphemism for drunken hallucination, caused by alcoholic hallucinosis or delirium tremens. The first recorded use of the term is by Jack London in 1913, who describes one kind of alcoholic, in the autobiographical John Barleycorn, as "the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants. He is the type that gives rise to the jokes in the funny papers."[1] London may have derived his metaphor from the 1890s saying "being followed by pink giraffes".[2]

In Action Comics #7 (December 1938), in a story in which Superman lifts an elephant over his head while performing at the circus, a drunk in the crowd exclaims, "I don't mind seeing pink elephants, but (-hic-) this is too much!"[3]

A reference to pink elephants occurs in the 1941 Disney animated film Dumbo. Dumbo, having taken a drink of water from a bucket spiked with champagne, begins to hallucinate singing and dancing "Pink Elephants on Parade".

In The Simpsons season 10 episode D'oh-in' in the Wind, Barney Gumble, whilst intoxicated on a drink Homer Simpson unintentionally laces with marijuana, sees a three-eyed monster which frightens him. He then throws down the bottle containing Homer's drink and quickly drinks some Duff Beer in order to overcome it. A pink elephant that is familiar to the alcoholic Barney marches through the door to Barney's aid and stomps on the monster.

In chapter 18 of Raymond Chandler's 1943 novel The Lady in the Lake, a character refers to a doctor "who ran around all night with a case of loaded hypodermic needles, keeping the fast set from having pink elephants for breakfast."

In his 1974 song "Simply Shady", George Harrison references the pink elephant, singing, "Before the bottle hit the floor, and I had time to think/I was blinded by desire, the elephant turned pink."

The 2013 Bollywood movie, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, uses the euphemism in its plot with the substitution of a buffalo for an elephant. When the titular character, Harphool Singh Mandola, an alcoholic, chooses not to drink, he hallucinates, as a withdrawal symptom, about a pink buffalo 'Gulabo', which is also the brand mascot of the alcohol he enjoys.

2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has used the phrase "pink elephants" to refer to Pro-life Republican women such as herself, Carly Fiorina, Sue Lowden and Jane Norton.[4]

A reference to seeing pink elephants as alcoholic hallucinosis occurs in a Just for Laughs prank. Pranked drivers were made to believe that a pink elephant walk across the road. After the drivers reported the sight of a pink elephant to an unconvinced policewoman, played by an actress, the drivers were required to take alcohol tests.[5]

Pink elephants do exist in nature, as it is possible for albino elephants to be pink, as well as white.[6]

In Spanish there is an equivalent expression known as "diablos azules" or "viendo diablos azules" that translates to "blue devils/demons" or "seeing blue devils/demons".

Product references[edit]

The association between pink elephants and alcohol is reflected in the name of various alcoholic drinks. The "Pink Elephant" cocktail, made with vodka, grenadine, galliano and orange juice,[7][8] is referenced in the chorus of the Madonna song 'Dear Jessie', which starts with the phrase "Pink elephants and lemonade." The Huyghe Brewery in Melle, Belgium features a pink elephant on the label of its Delirium Tremens beer and has a mouse cursor on its website.[9]


  1. ^ pink Online Etymological Dictionary
  2. ^ pink elephants Maven's Word of the Day, Random House
  3. ^ Siegel, Jerome, and Joe Shuster. "Action Comics #7." Comic strip. The Superman Chronicles. Vol. 1. New York: DC Comics, 2006. 93-93. Print.
  4. ^ Spencer, Jean (14 May 2010). "Palin: ‘Look Out for Stampede of Pink Elephants'". The Wall Street Journal. 
  5. ^ "Just for Laughs - Pink Elephant". Just for Laughs. 
  6. ^ Pink elephant is caught on camera
  7. ^ Pink Elephant cocktail recipe at
  8. ^ Pink Elephant cocktail recipe at Bar None Drinks
  9. ^ History of the Huyghe Brewery