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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.
Jack London, John Barleycorn

Drunks see things that aren't there. Animals are the commonest, even if they don't see the titular Pink Elephants.

Because of this, having consumed alcohol is often a reason to discount eyewitness testimony, perhaps with the statement that he must have been drunk to see that, even if the sight in question was real.

The first recorded usage of "pink elephants" was by writer (and inveterate drunkard) Jack London in his autobiographical account John Barleycorn, as in the page quote.

In Real Life, alcohol can produce hallucinations, not as an effect of drunkenness but of alcohol withdrawal -- which is dangerous and indeed sometimes lethal. Elephants are not, in fact, common; rats or spiders are more typical, and the effect on the drunkard is usually terror, plus the other symptoms of withdrawal, which are also not pretty. The Other Wiki has more here (In Poland and Germany, this is referred to as "white mice".)

Compare Single-Malt Vision. Also see No More for Me, in which a drunkard sees something in The Masquerade, decides it's the booze, and throws out his bottle.

Should not be confused with real pink elephants (well, for a given value of "real", anyway...) although it is quite common for any character who's been drinking to confuse them.

Examples of Pink Elephants include:


Advertising

  • The Belgian ale Delirium Tremens (itself a pretty strong brew) uses pink elephants on its labels and associated merchandise.


Comic Books

  • Discussed several times in the Lucky Luke comic Western Circus: Luke sees a circus elephant in the middle of American prairie, and later mentions that if it was pink and he was drunk, he wouldn't have any questions. Some time later, after the elephant goes on a rampage chasing a guy who wronged it, Luke calms it down, saying that it was just hallucinating pink men.
  • One Gaston Lagaffe strip involves an elephant painted pink that Gaston plans to use to prank one of his friends. However, M. De Mesmeker suffers collateral damage.
  • In an issue of Green Lantern Corps, alien GL Salakk gets intoxicated by a spiked drink and actually creates a horde of pink elephant-ish creatures.
  • 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!"


Film

  • Don Birnam suffers from this in the Oscar-winning The Lost Weekend.
  • George Valentin hallucinates a tiny version of himself, and then a whole scene from his last movie, while drinking himself into a stupor in The Artist.


Literature

  • In Lord Jim, a minor character ruins his brain with alcohol and ends seeing a swarm of toads staring at him.
  • In Discworld, a possible side effect of drinking scumble is seeing hairy green spiders coming out of the walls.
    • Numerous creatures of this type are part of the unwanted retinue of Bilious, Oh God of Hangovers.
  • 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 Charles de Lint's Jack of Kinrowan, an inebriated young woman sees a biker gang hunt down and kill a little man in a seemingly magical way one night. She first assumes the scene to be a hallucination, but one item from the scene remains: the dwarf's red cap. She later discovers that whenever she dons the cop, it allows her to see into the land of Faerie. Few humans can see it, but her drunken state allowed her briefly to break through.
  • As seen in the page quote, the Trope Namer is Jack London's memoir about life as an alcoholic.
  • In For Heaven's Eyes Only, a Gargle Blaster is described as being so potent that when you order one, it's served by a tiny pink elephant.
  • In Nelson Bond's "The Gripes Of Wraith", pink elephants seen in an alcoholic daze are referred to as "beasts of bourbon" by a Pungeon Master.
  • In PG Wodehouse's Uneasy Money, Nutty sees a monkey and assumes this. Elizabeth, who wants him off the drink, pretends not to see it.


Live Action TV

  • Parodied in an episode of Thunderbirds, when a drunk guy on a boat sees Lady Penelope in fancy dress sailing past in the amphibious FAB 1:

 Drunk guy: I've heard of seeing pink elephants, but a pink Rolls-Royce at sea driven by Marie Antoinette is ridiculous!


Music

  • Mentioned in The Divine Comedy's "A Drinking Song": "We'll drink beyond the boundaries of sense/ We'll drink til we start to see lovely pink elephants/ inside our heads, inside our beds/ inside the threads of our pyjama legs/ so don't shoot til you see the reds of our eyes/ and an army of elephants marching behind."
  • Invoked in the Mystery Jets song "Veiled in Grey":

 I'll bet you wouldn't believe me

If I whispered in your ears and said

I can see a pink elephant

And it's standing on the corner of the bed

You'll just smile and roll your eyes to the back of your head


Video Games

  • Brad Wong, the Dead or Alive series' token drunken fighter spends all of DOA 3 and DOA 4 searching for a mystical wine called "Genra". At the end of 4, he actually does find it. His ending video shows him drinking it and tripping hard, though this may just be to represent his euphoria upon finally finding the liquor of legend.
  • In Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, Ollie the Magic Bum sees pink elephants occasionally, and on the College level, he asks you to grind on some poles and logs to collect them all.
  • In World of Warcraft, one village in Outland contains pink eleks, which are only visible to drunk characters.
    • Also, during Brewfest, pink Eleks can be seen by drunk people around the major cities. The american players gets some quests for them, but these are removed in the european version - apparently for legal reasons: Having a whole festival about getting drunk is ok, but letting this lead to hallucinations is prohibited because it somehow glamorizes drug abuse.


Web Animation

  • A Strong Bad Email from Homestar Runner mentioned a drink called "Pink Elephant Pants."


Web Comics


Western Animation

  • In Dumbo, the Disney Acid Sequence "Pink Elephants on Parade"
  • Very similar to the Dumbo example Winnie the Pooh has a nightmare about "Heffalumps and Woozles" that do many strange things.
  • The Looney Tunes short "Punch Trunk" features a tiny elephant that wanders around the city, causing mass panic. But when a drunk sees it, all he says is "You're late" and wonders why he isn't pink this time.
    • An earlier Looney Tunes cartoon, "Calling Dr. Porky", has a patient being harrassed by pink elephants.
      • Yet another cartoon ("HoboBobo") has the young elephant Bobo trying to get to New York from Africa, and told that the best way to sneak onto the ship is to paint himself pink. Because nobody will admit to themselves that they're seeing a pink elephant. It works, but it turns out to work a little too well once he gets to the city.
  • In South Park, when the boys are put on ADD medicine, Cartman has hallucinations of spiders with Christina Aguilera's face.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons where the town is accidentally dosed with peyote, Town Drunk Barney is able to drive off his threatening hallucinations by consuming enough liquor to summon a friendlier pink elephant hallucination. Curiously enough, the pink elephant seen here looks exactly like the ones seen in Dumbo.
    • In another Western Animation/Simpsons Barney is beating on the ground, yelling "Take That, snakes!" Lisa complements him on rehearsing for Whacking Day (where the townsfolk whack snakes). Barney's reply: "What's Whacking Day?"
    • Invoked in a Halloween Episode where aliens come to earth and Homer sees them land; they make sure Homer isn't believed by spraying him with rum to make people think he hallucinated the whole thing.
    • Played straight in another episode where Homer sees what he thinks is an alien while going home from Moe's bar.


Real Life

  • In the hospital, Theodore Dalrymple saw the effects of hallucinations:

 Withdrawing alcoholics may suddenly collapse and die; they may have epileptic fits; and their terrifying hallucinations may prompt them to behave in bizarre and dangerous ways, for example by throwing themselves from high windows to escape the pursuing monsters.

 Indeed, I have known such patients dive through windows of the upper stories of my hospital in order, as they supposed, to escape the monsters, or enemies, who pursued or were attacking them. (Interestingly, it has proved difficult to persuade the hospital administration that such patients should be nursed on the ground floor as a precautionary measure, suggesting a subliminal death wish, though not on the part of the patients.)

  • Russian drunks tend to see "green imps" (зеленые черти zelenie cherti) rather than pink elephants.
  • In Spanish there is an equivalent expression known as "(viendo) diablos azules" that translates to "(seeing) blue devils/demons".
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