Seeing pink elephants

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For other uses, see Pink elephant (disambiguation).

"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] 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 elephants in a segment known as "Pink Elephants on Parade".

Pink elephants do exist in nature, as it is possible for albino elephants to be pink, as well as white.[3]

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

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,[5][6] 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. [7]


  1. ^ pink Online Etymological Dictionary
  2. ^ pink elephants Maven's Word of the Day, Random House
  3. ^ Pink elephant is caught on camera
  4. ^ Spencer, Jean (14 May 2010). "Palin: ‘Look Out for Stampede of Pink Elephants'". The Wall Street Journal. 
  5. ^ Pink Elephant cocktail recipe at
  6. ^ Pink Elephant cocktail recipe at Bar None Drinks
  7. ^ History of the Huyghe Brewery