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 used to indicate that a fanwork contains tropes or elements that may be deemed morally reprehensible without explicitly condemning the sensitive aspects.

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 says, deadpan, "I don't know what I expected."[1] Evidently, he indeed found a dead dove in the bag.

Over time, the tag underwent meaning drift to the point that it was understood by different fans as two diametrically oppposite meanings, leading to confusion and discussion among fans.

Intended Purpose

mostlyvalid proposed the tag on April 14, 2015 and described its intended purpose:

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.”[2]

Referencing "Dead Dove: Do Not Eat" in this manner was already happening as early as 2010 in some form or another — although not necessarily in fandom circles — before mostlyvalid suggested it. A 2012 UrbanDictionary definition:

[by 374sqft June 21, 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

#dead dove #arrested development #michael bluth #gob bluth #shoulda seen that coming[3]

On September 29, 2016, whatisthehydratrashparty said:

Essentially it’s a generic darkfic warning.

The name comes from a scene in Arrested Development where a character finds a package in a refrigerator labelled, “DEAD DOVE: Do Not Eat!”

Curious, he opens the package anyway and discovers it contains exactly what the label says: a dead dove. The character then says to himself, “I don’t know what I expected.”

“I don’t know what I expected” became a meme in and of itself, used in situations where people choose to look at things that are probably going to be unpleasant, and find out that they are, indeed, unpleasant.

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.[4]


Meaning Drift

In 2020, melannen remarked that the original meaning of the tag seemed to have undergone some meaning drift:

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, 2020-09-07, Dreamwidth post[5]

From the comments on melannen's post:

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[6]

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[7]

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[8]

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[9]

A 2021 r/FanFiction post came to a similar conclusion:

[u/lala2003002:] 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? [...]

[ash4426:] 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. [...]

[jera3:] 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

[JetstreamGW:] I mean, I've never heard the term before, and I've been reading fanfic since the 90s soooooo...

[Korrin:] 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."

r/FanFiction discussion, originally posted Jan 2021[10]

In 2022, Twitter user MrMxLemons tweeted the following, getting over a thousand likes:

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.

Later in the year, biheretic made another tweet along the same lines, which has over 11K likes:

"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"

Other popular tweets earlier in the year discouraged the usage of Dead Dove as a tag without clarification, arguing that it made spaces more difficult to navigate for people avoiding triggers.[11][12][13][14]

Dead Doves and Purity Culture

Some of the discussion around the "Dead Dove" tag/warning is similar to that surrounding Don't Like, Don't Read.

In 2021, some writers of "Dead Dove" fic were noting a resurgence of criticism against the genre, which some attribute to the rise of the "Fandom Police"/"Purity Culture" objecting to certain kinds of content existing at all, regardless of tagging (see the existence of the above r/FanFiction thread.) 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[15]

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

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

In terms of warnings, as of February 2019 Rape/Non-Con is at the top, while "Major Character Death" (229) and "No Archive Warnings Apply" (225) are about even. 1407 fics are marked as Explicit; 16 are rated General Audiences.

See Also



  1. ^ I Don't Know What I Expected at Know Your Meme. Gifset of the scene at thebluths on Tumblr.
  2. ^ A proposal, post by mostlyvalid on Tumblr, 14 April 2015. (Accessed 24 September 2016.)
  3. ^ Dead Dove Moment on UrbanDictionary.
  4. ^ whatisthehydratrashparty on tumblr, Archived version
  5. ^ (no subject) by melannen, posted on Dreamwidth 2020-09-17
  6. ^ noxelementalist comment on melannen's post, 2020-09-18
  7. ^ ratcreature comment on melannen's post, 2020-09-18
  8. ^ superborb comment on melannen's post, 2020-09-18
  9. ^ satsuma comment on melannen's post, 2020-10-08
  10. ^ are dead doves no longer welcome in fandoms? discussion thread on r/FanFiction, Jan 2021
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ I would have more examples but the Muskpocalypse has killed them.
  15. ^ u/sweetestgreth comment on "are dead doves no longer welcome in fandoms?" discussion thread on r/FanFiction, Jan 2021