Dead Dove: Do Not Eat

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Synonyms: Don't Like, Don't Read; Exactly What It Says on the Tin
See also: WarningsNo Beta We Die Like MenHydra Trash PartyidficdarkficNSFL
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Dead Dove: Do Not Eat is a warning or tag that is used and interpreted in multiple different ways in different areas of fandom. The phrase comes from a meme referencing the 2003 Arrested Development episode "Top Banana", in which Michael Bluth opens a paper bag labelled "DEAD DOVE DO NOT EAT" and, upon discovering that there is a dead dove inside the bag, says, deadpan, "I don't know what I expected."[1][2]

The tag was initially proposed in 2015 as a way to indicate that a fanwork depicts "tropes that might be viewed as problematic" without necessarily any subversion or condemnation of those tropes,[3] but confusion over the intended meaning of the tag has led to varied interpretations and usage over the years since it was coined.[4] One common usage is to indicate simply that "this fic is clearly labelled and fully warned for, so if you open it you know what you are getting."[5][6] More recently, it has also become common to treat "Dead Dove: Do Not Eat" as a content warning in and of itself, indicating that a fanwork contains particularly violent or dark tropes or concepts.[7]

The originally proposed meaning of the tag remains in use alongside the newer interpretations,[8] leading to significant confusion and debate among fan communities.

Use of the Tag

Original Purpose

The tag was proposed by Tumblr user mostlyvalid on 14 April, 2015 as a way to warn readers when a fanwork is intended to "roll around and wallow" in potentially problematic tropes, rather than "giving a measured evaluation of anything". At the time, a section of Captain America fandom had been using the tag Hydra Trash Party for this purpose since early 2014, and mostlyvalid proposed "Dead Dove: Do Not Eat" as a fandom-agnostic alternative:

The “Dead Dove: Do Not Eat” tag would essentially be a “what it says on the tin” metatag, indicating “you see the tropes and concepts tagged here? they are going to appear in this fic. exactly as said. there will not necessarily be any subversion, authorial commentary condemning problematic aspects, or meditation on potential harm. this fic contains dead dove. if you proceed, you should expect to encounter it.”

mostlyvalid, 2015-04-15[3]

Outside of fandom circles, references to "Dead Dove: Do Not Eat" had been happening as early as 2010, with UrbanDictionary giving this definition in 2012:

Dead Dove Moment

A reference to Arrested Development

When the title or description of a situation, video, location, or anything tells you exactly what to expect but still, you're surprised even though you definitely should have seen it coming.

Michael opens the refrigerator and sees a paper bag with "DEAD DOVE Do Not Eat" written on it. He opens the bag anyway and, there is, in fact, a dead dove inside and he says to himself, "I don't know what I expected."
Michael just had a Dead Dove Moment

374sqft, 2012-06-21[9]

Meaning Drift of the Tag

Due to varied interpretations of mostlyvalid's post, different usages and explanations of the term began circling Tumblr as early as 2016. Particularly common was the interpretation that "Dead Dove: Do Not Eat" simply means a reader should pay close attention to the fanwork's other tags, because they accurately describe the work's content:

The use of “Dead Dove: Do Not Eat” as a tag for fanfiction was suggested by @mostlyvalid as a way to tell readers that, seriously, this fic contains something unpleasant – you have been warned. If you choose to ignore that warning and open the fic, then get upset by the unpleasant content, well, we don’t know what you expected.

whatisthehydratrashparty, 2016-09-29[5]

By 2020, fans were also interpreting the tag to be a content warning in itself, and an indicator that a fanwork contained potentially upsetting tropes or concepts. This led to some fans treating "Dead Doves" as a category of content, and to confusion among people who interpreted the tag in other ways, as described by melannen in September 2020:

I have been lurking some prompt memes lately, and I keep seeing "DNW: Dead doves" on anon kink prompts

I don't...

"Dead dove" means "this fic is clearly labelled and fully warned for, so if you open it you know what you are getting." DNW: Dead Dove means... that you want your fic to be badly tagged and unwarned so that you're blindsided by things? I don't understand.

I guess I can see a meaning drift where people are reading "dead dove" to just refer to all of the content that usually needs to be thoroughly warned for, but I've seen dnw: Dead Dove on some pretty kinktomato-flavored prompts. "DNW: Dead Doves" on a prompt for dubcon incest is even less comprehensible than it would be generally.

Does it mean "The only fucked-up content I want in my fic is the content that is already tagged in my prompt"? But that's what dead dove means. If you only want the fucked-up stuff that is clearly tagged you are in fact asking for a dead dove fic.

melannen, 2020-09-17[6]

The comments on melannen's post indicate further confusion about the tag's meaning and usage. Some agreed with the interpretation that "Dead Dove" likely refers to potentially upsetting tropes or concepts:

I haven't seen it much in the fan corners I do, but when it has popped up it seems to be taken as a shorthand for f*cked up material broadly (so like "DNW: Dead Dove" would mean "I want nothing incredibly problematic and/or for the prompt to be done in a way that is as minimally problematic as possible.) The conotation of accurately tagging seems to have completely vanished.

noxelementalist, 2020-09-18[10]

Others interpreted it as being a warning about the tone of a given fanwork:

I guess I thought it kind of meant almost the opposite of what you say it means, in the sense that I thought it was supposed to mean something that will make you feel bad after reading, even though your expectations from all other context clues (like the other tags) are good . This explains though why when I ignored my apprehension for authors I usually like, where the other tags looked intriguing, the stories seemed perfectly nice to me, and not twisted at all.

Fandom labels being based on injokes and obscure references is just confusing.

ratcreature, 2020-09-18[11]

Still others interpreted it as something akin to AO3's Choose Not to Warn tag, as an indicator of unspecified potentially upsetting content:

Wow, I totally osmosed the opposite meaning for dead dove from its common usage in the Untamed fandom. The first time I encountered it was in quigonejinn's fics where it is combined with CNTW to imply "usually this would be warned for and is dark, but the suspense is part of the point."

superborb, 2020-09-18[12]

User satsuma further highlighted the extent to which fans were confused and divided about the use of the tag:

I was part of a discussion yesterday where we determined that of the four people involved, there were four different interpretations of what "dead dove" tags mean & it made me think of this post haha

satsuma, 2020-10-08[13]

Continued Use of Older Meanings

While understanding of the tag continued to fragment, something akin to the original intended meaning was still one of the many interpretations circulating in 2022:

It’s Tuesday which means time to pull out the ol common sense handbook. The “Dead Dove: Do Not Eat” tag means you get what is *advertised* to you by the author, content which is not necessarily condemned, subverted, or commented upon aside from it happening within the story.

MrMxLemons, 2022-05-17[8]

As was the interpretation that the tag simply means a reader should pay close attention to the fanwork's other tags:

"dead dove" being used as a vague tag that stands in for anything problematic or dark imho directly contradicts the original context. it's "dead dove do not eat" and "idk what i expected." as in "this bag was very clearly labeled to have a dead dove in it so dnt expect smth else"

biheretic, 2022-10-30[14]

Current Use of the Tag

In February and March of 2023, an extensive series of discussions took place on Twitter regarding the meaning of “dead dove”. It became apparent that there are at least five meanings in common circulation:

  1. A tag used in conjunction with other tags not only to indicate “these tags are accurate” with the presumption that the other tags will be concepts or tropes that most people find unpleasant or upsetting, but also to serve as a warning to the reader that the concepts and tropes may or may not be subverted or condemned, thus requiring the reader to specifically opt-in to reading about them.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24]
  2. A tag indicating that the work engages with potentially upsetting content, but does not necessarily explicitly condemn any morally dubious actions that occur in the work.[25][26][27] It does not require the use of other tags to specify what that content is. Crucially, this definition does not guarantee that the tropes/concepts are played straight, it just serves as a reminder to the reader that they might be. This definition stems from the section of mostlyvalid's proposal which explains that the tag would indicate that "there will not necessarily be any subversion, authorial commentary condemning problematic aspects, or meditation on potential harm" within the work,[3] and is often conflated with the "problematic shipper" definition of "pro-shipper".[28][29]
  3. Primarily focusing on the “what it says on the tin” aspect of mostlyvalid’s meaning, and applicable to any work, even those that do not contain graphic descriptions of opt-in concepts. This definition does not carry an implication of darkfic, nor does it indicate anything about how the author will approach the topics. This definition does require the use of other tags.[30][31][32][33] Often the definition being decried as incorrect.[34][35][36][37][38]
  4. A non-specific standalone tag indicating that the concepts and tropes in the work might be unpleasant or upsetting, without further clarification about what those concepts and tropes might be; a synonym for darkfic.[28][29][39][40][41]
  5. An indication that the fanwork contains heavy angst, rather than indicating any other kinds of potentially upsetting content.[42][43][44]

Use of "Dead Dove" as a content category

melannen's 2020 post[45] about the "Dead Dove: Do Not Eat" tag noted an emerging phenomenon of fans listing "Dead Dove" in their DNWs when submitting prompts to prompt memes. Some fans now consider "Dead Dove" to be a category of content in itself, encompassing tropes and concepts that might be upsetting to other fans.

As an example of the kinds of content fan communities consider to be "Dead Doves", one Discord server in The Witcher fandom offers the following channels for discussion of "Dead Dove topics":

#i-dont-want-it-but-i-do: non/dub con, con non con, mind control

#furry-fuck-buddies: bestiality

#dead-people-walking: vore, gore, woundfucking, necrophilia

#youngins-and-family: (extreme)underage, (pseudo)incest

#we-dont-hurt-people-i-promise: extreme brutality, violence, and torture

#bodily-functions: scat, etc.

#monstrous-fuck-buddies: non-harkness passing monsterfucking, get your vines and slimes here

#we-are-only-sleeping: unspoilered somnophilia content

The Passiflora Discord server, 2022-03-21[46]

However there is no pan-fandom consensus on exactly what tropes or types of content are considered "Dead Doves". In other fan spaces the term is less explicitly defined; another fandom Discord server simply tells users that, "Dead dove is like... If you feel the average human might be disturbed? Then it's dead dove."[47]

Confusion over what exactly constitutes "Dead Dove" content is exemplified by this exchange from r/FanFiction in January 2021:

are dead doves no longer welcome in fandoms?

just read the most emotionally distressing one shot I've ever read in my entire life, BUT I was expecting it by the very upsetting nature of the tags

what I didn't expect was for the author to get absolute decimated in the comment section so badly that they already orphaned their work in a day or so.

does this happen often? [...]

To add to this, is the definition of what a Dead Dove fic is getting lost? Do people not understand what they're getting into? Though even if that's the case, no one should abuse the author.

And on the other side of things, I recently read a fic tagged for Dead Dove but it was actually just you're run of the mill main character dead/family grieving fic. Which isn't happy or anything but there was no weird depravity whatsoever - it was definitely not what I would consider a classic Dead Dove story.

I feel like it is. When I first encountered the tag it usually indicated torture or non-con but nowadays it seems to trend towards anything non fluffy. Which is annoying because exploring grief shouldn't be considered a dark fic [48]

Later in the same comment thread Korrin speculated that the variation in understanding of the term "Dead Dove" may be due to fans being unaware of the original intended meaning, and absorbing different ones through osmosis:


I think the meaning quite possibly could be getting lost, simply by virtue of the tag itself being a meme, and one that gets older and more outdated when each passing day. It's easier to know what the meme means with the context of where it came from, but a lot of people now probably have just absorbed the meaning through cultural osmosis. And even if you happen to read a dead dove fic and try to infer the meaning you might still not know what the tag actually implies. And people just guessing at the meaning results in it being further watered when people use it just to mean "bad stuff that might make you uncomfortable," as opposed to "I am dead serious about the severity of the previous tags I have used and you should expect exactly what I've told you to expect."[49]

In March 2023 shinelikethunder commented on the apparent absurdity of the different interpretations of the meaning of "Dead Dove" in use in different fandoms and contexts:

the thing about the semantic drift of “dead dove: do not eat” is that i think the wincest discord servers where cannibalism has to go in the #deaddove channel and the hannibal discord servers where incest has to go in the #deaddove channel should kiss

shinelikethunder, 2023-03-09[50]

Other fans have pointed out that the usage of "Dead Dove" as a category of content, without clarifying what content it encompasses, makes spaces more difficult to navigate for people avoiding triggers.[51][52][53]

Dead Doves and Purity Culture

Due to the continuing use of the "Dead Dove: Do Not Eat" tag by at least some fans to indicate fanworks that are intended to "roll around in tropes that might be viewed as problematic" without condemning problematic aspects of them,[3] some fans have started conflating use of the term with the "problematic shipper" definition of "pro-shipper".[54][55][7][29] Some discussion around "Dead Dove" as a tag or content warning is therefore similar to that surrounding Don't Like, Don't Read.

In 2021, some writers of "Dead Dove" fic noted a resurgence of criticism against the genre, which some attributed to the rise of the "Fandom Police"/"Purity Culture" objecting to certain kinds of content existing at all, regardless of tagging. This argument often seemed to come from "older" fans, directed towards "younger" fans - although not always. For example:

[u/sweetestgreth:] As someone who writes a lot of dead dove, it’s an issue that has to do with the rise of purity culture. I’m a bit of a fandom veteran and it never used to be this bad! I don’t know what we can attribute this rise to, but it is rampant these days and the whole getting upset over certain tags/tropes is not limited to dead dove. [...]

[u/catsizedmonster:] Unfortunately a lot of people nowadays are convinced that stories are only good if they are all pure and innocent and sweet. Plenty of dead dove authors get bashed and harassed for no reason

[u/Revolutionary-Ant:] [...] Where do these crazy-ass fans come from!? This isn't a Gen Z thing either I saw people on also complaining about this same BS when I was 14 or 15.

The answer is that there will always be crazy readers.... [...]

[u/mmoonbunny:] I'm glad you pointed out that this was also occurring on FF back in the day, although it was a little more rare and less intense than it is today.

[deleted user:] It might be genZ stuff, it started more prominently around 2014 in dreamwidht with the Anti-shipper communities over fictional ships that may be/are problematic in a real setting. [...]

[u/Silvaranth:] I would say fandom plays a pretty big factor. If it's a fandom with a lot of young fans, I expect a lot of immature and emotional comments and that is usually the case. I'm also active in fandoms with little to no young fans and there comments that trash the author are extremely rare. [...]

comments on "are dead doves no longer welcome in fandoms?", r/FanFiction, Jan 2021[56]

Another person on Dreamwidth felt the tag "missed the point", claiming it shouldn't warn about a dead dove in the fridge, but that it means there shouldn't be a dead dove in the fridge to begin with, aka "some things shouldn't be written at all":[57]

[surgeworks] Take, for example, the "dead dove" tag on AO3. It's rooted in the "dead dove, do not eat" "I don't know what I expected" meme from Arrested Development. A man opens the fridge, finds a bag labeled as such, opens it, and then says the above quote--adapted into fandom space as a tag to essentially say "you were warned, so don't complain--what did you expect?". The users who have adopted this tag apparently having missed the point of the original work's joke on the matter--that there isn't supposed to be a dead dove in the fridge. There isn't ever supposed to be a dead dove in the fridge.


In general, or just applying to RPF? Because for non-RPF fic I do think it's a good way of coding "you were warned so don't complain" for darkfic. Sadly, sometimes people DO click on things clearly tagged just so they can get angry about it.


For anything people shouldn't be writing. RPF, horny badfic ("shota"/"loli"/"noncon"), racist fanfiction, etc.

Usage on the AO3

On the Archive of Our Own, the number of works tagged "Dead Dove: Do Not Eat" has grown substantially:

  • 274 works in September 2016
  • 878 works in March 2018
  • 1895 works in February 2019
  • 3017 works in August 2019
  • 8016 works in August 2020
  • 13411 works in March 2021
  • 21701 works in November 2021
  • 33261 works in July 2022
  • 48987 works in March 2023
  • 65663 works in October 2023

The tag is used on works in a wide variety of fandoms, the most common including:

It has also been used on almost 3000 original works.

In terms of warnings, as of March 2023 Rape/Non-Con is most-used, with almost 23,000 works. The vast majority of works are tagged as Explicit (35,000) with fewer than 400 tagged for General Audiences.

See Also



  1. ^ I Don't Know What I Expected at Know Your Meme, 2 Oct 2013. Accessed March 2023.
  2. ^ Tumblr gifset of the "Dead Dove" scene by thebluths, 24 Jun 2016. Accessed March 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d A proposal, Tumblr post by mostlyvalid, 14 Apr 2015. Archived version from the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ QUERY, Tumblr discussion, 15 Jan 2018. Accessed March 2023.
  5. ^ a b Untitled Tumblr post by whatisthehydratrashparty, 29 Sep 2016. Archived version.
  6. ^ a b Untitled Dreamwidth post by melannen, 17 Sep 2020. Archived version.
  7. ^ a b Tweet by Woe_Dreamland, 8 Feb 2023. Accessed March 2023.
  8. ^ a b Tweet by MrMxLemons, 17 May 2022. Accessed March 2023.
  9. ^ Dead Dove Moment on UrbanDictionary, 21 Jun 2012. Accessed March 2023.
  10. ^ noxelementalist comment on melannen's post, 2020-09-18
  11. ^ ratcreature comment on melannen's post, 2020-09-18
  12. ^ superborb comment on melannen's post, 2020-09-18
  13. ^ satsuma comment on melannen's post, 2020-10-08
  14. ^ Tweet by biheretic, posted 2023-10-30. Accessed 2023-03-10.
  15. ^ Tweet by @N0nb1naryDemon, posted 2023-02-10. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  16. ^ Tweet by @solarcat, posted 2023-02-10. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  17. ^ Tweet by @thenerdybonbon, posted 2023-02-10. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  18. ^ Tweet by @relenita1, posted 2023-02-10, quote-tweeting a tweet by @JenosonTwit, posted 2023-02-08. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  19. ^ Tweet by @supermanboobies, posted 2023-02-12, quote-tweeting a tweet by @cl9udcunt, posted 2023-02-11. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  20. ^ Tweet by @Bagel0001, posted 2023-02-09. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  21. ^ Tweet by @DaringSteel, posted 2023-02-09. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  22. ^ Tweet by @quills_eggs, posted 2023-02-08. Accessed 2023-03-11.
  23. ^ Tweet by @KaosCryptid, posted 2023-02-08. Accessed 2023-03-10.
  24. ^ Tweet by @sonocomics posted 2023-03-05. Accessed 2023-03-11.
  25. ^ Tweet by @Yakarmi1, posted 2023-02-10. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  26. ^ Tweet by @plumeriade, posted 2023-02-11. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  27. ^ Tweet by @sugaryhaze, posted 2023-02-08. Accessed 2023-03-23.
  28. ^ a b Tweet by @RA7KlNG, posted 2023-02-10. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  29. ^ a b c Tweet by @Tigerblab7, posted 2023-02-09. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  30. ^ Tweet by @asterdotash, posted 2023-02-10. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  31. ^ Tweet by @mqrbles_ posted 2023-03-09. Accessed 2023-03-11.
  32. ^ Tweet by @n1ghtm0th posted 2023-03-05. Accessed 2023-03-11.
  33. ^ Tweet by @Synneffo posted 2023-03-06. Accessed 2023-03-11.
  34. ^ Tweet by @lunarwriter75, posted 2023-02-08. Accessed 2023-03-11.
  35. ^ Tweet by @ConnorRK_, posted 2023-03-04. Accessed 2023-03-11.
  36. ^ Tweet by @LadyEmma91, replying to a screenshot of a now-deleted tweet from @milkywaystudio_, posted 2023-02-08. Accessed 2023-03-11.
  37. ^ Tweet by @purity_culture, posted 2023-02-09. Accessed 20230-03-11.
  38. ^ Tweet by @greyjedireylo, posted 2023-02-08. Accessed 2023-03-11.
  39. ^ Tweet by @hadesselch, posted 2023-02-09. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  40. ^ Tweet by @WalnutPapilio, posted 2023-02-09. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  41. ^ Tweet by @AuntHortense, posted 2023-02-08. Accessed 2023-03-11.
  42. ^ Tweet by @milkywaystudio_, posted 2023-02-07. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  43. ^ Tweet by @fubroshi, posted 2023-02-09. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  44. ^ Tweet by @cybrgrrrl, posted 2023-02-10. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  45. ^ melannen, 17 September 2020
  46. ^ From the #dd-rules-and-announcements! channel of The Passiflora Discord server, accessed March 2023 and reproduced with permission of the server owner, Tumblr user geraltrogerericduhautebellegarde
  47. ^ From the #rules-and-about channel of the Our Flag Means Fuck Yes Discord server, 25 May 2022. Accessed March 2023 and reproduced with permission of the server owner, Tumblr user coffee_mage.
  48. ^ are dead doves no longer welcome in fandoms? discussion thread on r/FanFiction, Jan 2021
  49. ^ are dead doves no longer welcome in fandoms? discussion thread on r/FanFiction, Jan 2021
  50. ^ Tumblr post by shinelikethunder, 9 Mar 2023. Accessed March 2023.
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^ Tweet by @duskianfae, posted 2023-02-12. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  54. ^ Tweet by @SpiltGendrfluid, posted 2023-02-09. Accessed 2023-02-13.
  55. ^ Tweet by @flrdlcrs_, posted 2023-02-09. Accessed 2023-03-10.
  56. ^ u/sweetestgreth comment on "are dead doves no longer welcome in fandoms?" discussion thread on r/FanFiction, Jan 2021
  57. ^ surgeworks on das_sporking, Ship It: Chapters 41 & 42
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