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Pink Elephants

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

An extremely intoxicated person, at least in fiction, hallucinates — they see things that aren't visible to a sober person. Animals are the commonest, even though they're seldom literal Pink Elephants.

Because of this, others seldom credit the eyewitness testimony of a person who had been drinking, particularly if the sight in question was real. They will write him off, saying he hallucinated the whole thing, mistook something innocuous for a monster, or couldn't possibly have seen (or remembered) the event that clearly when his faculties were swimming in booze. This can be played for drama or comedy.

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 info. Bear in mind, the animals "seen" are connected to culture: in Poland and Germany, it's white mice, while in Russia, it's green imps,note  and to Spanish-speakers, it's blue devils/demons.note 

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. Can combine with You Have to Believe Me or Crying Wolf (if the drunk person routinely claims to see little green men after a night out, he won't be believed the night of the actual alien invasion).

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:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • Ale Delirium Tremens (itself a pretty strong brew) uses pink elephants on its labels and associated merchandise. The name refers to an acute episode of delirium that is usually caused by withdrawal from alcohol, first described in 1813 and also known as "the shakes".
  • In the mid-1960s, Post Cereals added pink elephant pieces to their animal-shaped "Crispy Critters" kid's cereal, promoted with jaunty animated commercials - reality at a Mad Men level.

    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 Mesmaeker 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!"

    Fanfiction 
  • In Catch Me in Midair an in-labor Remus asked Snape "Can't you be useful and give me some potion that makes me see pink hippogriffs until this is all over and our babe is here?"

    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.
    • Played With in Mort, when one elephant gets drunk, and someone mentions that he's probably seeing pink humans.
    • In Feet of Clay, Detritus finds out Igneous is smuggling troll drugs. Unfortunately, he finds this out the hard way, by ingesting some that he had on his finger. He then asks "Did I eat that?" and when he's told yes he says "Good, because I'd hate to think this room was really full of giant spiders."
  • In chapter 18 of Raymond Chandler's 1943 Philip Marlowe 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 cap, 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 P. G. Wodehouse's Uneasy Money, Nutty sees a monkey and assumes this. Elizabeth, who wants him off the drink, pretends not to see it.
  • In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel One Salt Sea, Toby hopes that a shrieking mermaid in a wheelchair will be taken for this.

    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!
  • Rab C. Nesbitt sees a pink elephant, the "Heebie Jeebie", after being told to give up drinking by his doctor in the season 1 episode "Drink". It spends the episode trying to convince him to continue drinking.
  • Community - after breaking his legs in a trampoline mishap, Pierce gets addicted to pain pills, causing him to see, and get advice from, a 4-inch tall Andy Dick (who is the pilot of Pierce's toy remote-control helicopter).

    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
  • Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians did a song called "Pink Elephants" back in the 30s. While said pachyderms were naturally the main focus, it included other unnatural animals such as a polka-dot boa constrictor and a lavender alligator.

    Pinball 
  • The drunks in the Fisticuffs Multiball mode of The Champion Pub sometimes mention that you're "turning all pink and... elephanty".

    Poetry 
  • In Alfred Noyes's "Forty Singing Seamen", it concludes with the narrator's offering this as the Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane explanation. To be sure, that included drinking the grog.
    Across the seas of Wonderland to London-town we blundered,
    Forty singing seamen as was puzzled for to know
    If the visions that we saw was caused by—here again we pondered—
    A tipple in a vision forty thousand years ago.
    Could the grog we
    dreamt we swallowed
    Make us
    dream of all that followed?
    We were only simple seamen, so of course we didn't know!

    ChorusWe were simple singing seamen, so of course we could not know

    Video Games 
  • In Bioshock, all the items have a bit of flavor text which can be read from the menu. The homemade moonshine simply says "Oh god, I'm seeing things!", courtesy of some nameless bar patron.
  • 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.
  • Referenced, in a way, in Among The Sleep: One of the protagonist's toys is a stuffed pink elephant. This foreshadows that the "supernatural" events of the game are the protagonist's way of coping with the abusive behavior of his alcoholic mother.

    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"
  • The same elephants, as well as the song associated with them, make a reappearance in an episode of House of Mouse, minus the alcohol. The sequence comes to an abrupt end when Timothy scares them off.
  • 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 harassed by a band of pink elephants.
      • Yet another cartoon ("Hobo Bobo") has the young elephant Bobo trying to get to New York from India, 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.
  • The Simpsons:
    • When the town is accidentally dosed with peyote, The Alcoholic 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 episode, Barney is beating on the ground, yelling "Take that, snakes!" Lenny 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.
    • In "The Springfield Files" episode Homer sees what he thinks is an alien while going home from Moe's bar. The creature he saw was real but nobody believed him.
    • Invoked again with the Duff Days beer festival in "Pygmoelian", where pink helium balloons shaped like elephants are available for sale. Homer buys a balloon for Maggie, but it gets loose and floats into a meeting of Log Cabin Republicans who are trying to choose a logo.

    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.
    He also tried to wrestle with Obstructive Bureaucrats because of this
    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.)


Cherry BlossomsPink TropesPink Girl, Blue Boy
The Peter PrincipleWe Are Not Alone IndexPirate Booty
Disney Acid SequenceImageSource/Animated FilmsThe Emperor's New Groove
One Drink Will Kill the BabyHard Drinking TropesPlaying Drunk

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