I can stand the sight of worms
And look at microscopic germs
But Technicolor pachyderms
Is really too much for me.
Pink elephants are hallucinations one is supposed to see after drinking too much alcohol. These elephants, while potentially very amusing little characters, are most often used in a negative connotation. Typically the social drinker, the guy at happy hour, or even the keg standing frat boys are not said to see pink elephants - the phrase is most often reserved for the helpless stumbling wino on the street with his brown-bagged bottle of cheap wine.
Because of the alcohol(ic) references, pink elephants have been popular as barware characters, and are used to name several mixed drinks and bartending guides. They have been featured in songs, albums, movies, and books too numerous to mention in a single node. Below is the believed origin of the phrase, as well as the usage that made it a household word.
The first known use of the phrase was in 1913. Jack London's memoir, John Barleycorn says this:
There are, broadly speaking, two types of drinkers. There is 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.
Disney brought pink elephants into the home in the story of Dumbo. In this movie, Dumbo and Timothy the mouse (not blue, by the way) accidentally imbibe large quantities of bubbly wine. After a short period of stereotypical hiccupping and glossy-eyed goofing around, the movie becomes wildly psychedelic, bordering on a bad trip. In it, the innocent rodent and pachyderm team are accosted by dozens of Pink Elephants on Parade for several minutes. True to form, the pair black out, and later wake up in a stranger's home with no recollection of where they've been or what they've done.
Note that Disney also has another not-suitable-for-children nightmare sequence in one of the Winnie the Pooh movies involving multi-colored Heffalumps and Woozles (elephants and weasels). In place of the alcohol in this movie is "hunny".
Beware too all who hear NightShadow mention pink elephants.
Being originally printed in 1913, the excerpt from John Barleycorn is in the public domain in the US. The lyrics at the top are taken from the song, Pink Elephants on Parade from the Walt Disney movie, Dumbo.