Posted by ESC on February 10, 2004
In Reply to: Blue devils, red spiders posted by Brian from Shawnee on February 10, 2004
: : : : Where did the saying "to see Pink Elephants" come from.
: : : BLUE DEVILS AND PINK ELEPHANTS -- Regarding "the blues" as in depression or the music, the "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris says it's believed this expression came from "...an abbreviation of 'blue devils' -- hallucinations, like pink elephants, popularly believe to accompany delirium tremens...the term blue in the sense of melancholy, depressed or despondent has been an element of slang, especially black slang, since midway through the past century..."
: : Also, red spiders and red monkeys. From "Slang and Euphemism: A Dictionary of Oaths, Curses, Insults, Ethnic Slurs, Sexual Slang and Metaphor, Drug Talk, College Lingo and Related Matters" by Richard A. Spears (New American Library, Penguin Putnam, New York, Third Edition, 2001).
: : Neither source has a date of first use of pink elephants.
: I have to take issue with Mr. & Mrs. Morris for associating the term "the blues" meaning sadness, with alcoholic hallucinations. The word "blue" has been associated with sadness since at least Shakespeare's day. In "As You Like It", Rosalind, disguised as Gannymede, questions Orlando's love for Rosalind saying he should have "a blue eye, and sunken" if he were really in love. The footnotes in my Shakespeare book said "blue" referred to melancholy, not the color.
Here's the rest of what I have on "the blues":
Blue Devils or A fit of the blues. A fit of spleen, low spirits. Roach and Esquirol affirm, from observation, that indigo dyers are especially subject to melancholy; and that those who dye scarlet are choleric. Paracelsus also asserts that blue is injurious to the health and spirits. There may, therefore be more science in calling melancholy blue than is generally allowed. The German blei (lead) which gives rise to our slang word blue or blucy (lead) seems to bear upon the "leaden down-cast eyes" of melancholy. From the First Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable at http://www.bibliomania.com/Reference/PhraseAndFable/index.html THE DICTIONARY OF PHRASE AND FABLE BY E. COBHAM BREWER, FROM THE NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION OF 1894