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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 sort 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 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 an episode of the hit Irish comedy series "Father Ted" entitled "Competition Time"(1995), Father Ted warns Father Jack that he'll be "seeing the pink elephants again" after Jack has drank some Toilet Duck (toilet cleaner). He then holds 3 fingers up and asks Jack to tell him how many he sees.

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,[4][5] is referenced in the chorus of the Madonna song 'Dear Jessie', which starts with the phrase "Pink elephants and lemonade". The Strong Bad Email episode nightlife features the fictitious "Pink Elephant Pants" drink.[6] The Huyghe Brewery in Melle, Belgium features a pink elephant on the label of its Delirium Tremens beer and as a mouse cursor on its website.[7]

Pink elephants do exist: Albino elephants can be pink.[8]

2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has used the phrase "pink elephants" to refer to Pro-life Republican women such as herself and Carly Fiorina, a former Republican candidate for the California Senate who lost to incumbent Barbara Boxer. [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. Pink Elephant cocktail recipe at
  5. Pink Elephant cocktail recipe at Bar None Drinks
  6. "nightlife". Homestar Runner Wiki. 10 December 2007. Retrieved 16 July 2009.
  7. History of the Huyghe Brewery
  8. Pink elephant is caught on camera
  9. Spencer, Jean (14 May 2010). "Palin: ‘Look Out for Stampede of Pink Elephants'". The Wall Street Journal.


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