|See also:||optional details, ODAO, DNW|
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Dewclaws is a term in exchange fandom that's used as shorthand to refer to being given something in an exchange gift that most people would consider obviously bizarre or upsetting but which the gift-giver clearly thinks is bog standard and perfectly fine to gift to someone who didn't opt-in to it. Generally the use of the term carries connotations of something a recipient couldn't possibly have managed to DNW in their sign up because there's was no way for the recipient to guess that someone would give them such a thing. yuletide_coal and fail_fandomanon use this shorthand often, sometimes in combination with gay-bashing dragons.
The use of "dewclaws" in this manner is a reference to the Howl's Moving Castle fanfiction In Which Sophie Again Explains Things to Howl by Untherius, which was gifted to antediluvian for Yuletide 2011. In the fic, Howl is "a cold detached science-type who seemed to view his marriage to alien Sophie as some kind of ongoing experiment" and Sophie Hatter — "canonically a human witch" — is "an alien geneticist with dewclaws" despite neither aliens nor genetics seeming to be likely features of the world Howl's Moving Castle takes place in and dewclaws being an extra digit only present in animals such as dogs, cats, and some hoofed animals.
He's a guy with very idiosyncratic headcanons who in the past was known for inserting said headcanons into his fics in odd ways. (E.g., he took a bog-standard Howl's Moving Castle prompt and decided to do an apocalyptic crossover with Emberverse in which Morgan (Howl and Sophie's son) did a lot of hunting, butchering, and consuming raw organ meat, then met Eugene and Rapunzel from Tangled. Plus Sophie had dewclaws, randomly. This is the origin of jokes about dewclaws, btw.)
Velociraptors and "organ meats" are mentioned in the same vein as dewclaws, though less frequently, as references to Untherius.
Dewclaws are often considered separate from (and not as bad as) issuefic:
I get that the Rosefox hateboner can seem excessive (and I agree that sometimes it does get excessive), but people definitely weren't coddling Untherius back in the day. And for me, at least, what makes Rosefox's egregiously bad fics less entertaining than Untherius' egregiously bad fics is that they're not bad in a "this is a bizarre wacky AU with dewclaws and aliens and genetic engineering" way. They're bad in a "this is a treatise on social justice so the author can show you how woke they are" way. Both things ignore the recips' wants, but as someone who's received a fic that felt like a smug lecture on social justice...I would have taken dewclaws over that any day.
I would have expected anyone participating in something like Yuletide to know that they're supposed to be writing for their recipient. But then, you do hear about things like gay bashing dragons and dewclaws anyway...so some people evidently never care.
Do collections like those really have that much of an impact, though? I thought that people could actually specify which characters they would be happy to write. In which case, if the matching system works out ideally, they should only be matched with people who wanted those characters in the first place.
You don't need a letter, but even a short list of things you like and things you do not want is amazing, or extremely short prompts (e.g. "I'd love to see these two characters I requested go on a date and kiss at the end!" or "Anything with snarky dialogue is great.")
With no details/letter, a) your writer will be stuck and will have no idea what you want out of your fic, b) you will probably be less happy with the fic since they won't be writing towards your likes/dislikes. Even if you're really not-picky and would like anything, it's better to directly say that.
Also keep in mind that "I'm fine with anything" leaves the door open to dewclaws crossover with non-canonical aliens and raw meat eating. Short paragraph letter all the way.
Yeah. There are definite gray areas between "your tastes and my skills are fundamentally incompatible" and "I can make the exact work of your dreams". And hell, there are times when technically you could make exactly what they requested, but not in the spirit they requested, and those times you have to listen to your better judgment and back away, even if TECHNICALLY you could write that pirate hurt-comfort fluff just because they didn't SPECIFICALLY say that those pirates being cannibals with dewclaws was a DNW.
As someone assigned to a mod, after the thread last post I'm now worried they assigned me to themself because my stuff is considered shit.
There are two types of exchange participants we notice: those who pay too much attention to DNWs and angst on _coal and FFA, and those who don't pay enough attention to DNWs and end up writing dewclaws or polycons.
I suspect most exchange participants fall into the third category, those who angst about DNWs the exact right amount and therefore don't get noticed. 
The wank about listing scat/vore/whatever in DNWs tends to be either because it's some kink that is a very, very common DNW and very rare as a preference within fandom or it's about some precious flower who can't handle other people not liking their kinks. Sometimes, it's about aggressively judgmental phrasing. Most people's DNWs are just fine and they should carry on listing them as they please.
Incest and underage are very popular in fandom. Lots of people see underage as so unremarkable that it's not worthy of mention. Lots of people have incest as a kink.
Someone writing an AU where your requested ship are related is not a problem most of us will encounter. That's unrequested dewclaws-level weirdness. On the other hand, I could easily see a more sensible writer thinking it was okay to include background teenager/teenager ships or to have your OTP solve a case where the crime turned out to be motivated by a secret incestuous relationship. If it's not clear how and when your ship met, plenty of people might think it was okay to write a backstory fic where they got together as teenagers.
If your writer is writing 1k of curtainfic, they probably won't include a bunch of noncanon stuff, but what if they decide to write you 15k with plot? Suddenly, there's all sorts of potential for things to come up. If underage and incest are specific squicks of yours and you can't stand even a mention in a fic, it's safer to say so.
[The drink gifted for the Yuletide Drink Swap] was the opposite of the sorts of flavors I said I liked, and kind of a specialty taste. It wasn't quite the drink equivalent of dewclaws fic, but it was a similar issue: they were so excited about their weird thing that they couldn't pay attention to what I'd said about my preferences.
NA with general thoughts about DNWs...
Yeah, I do the same (a few high-level DNWs) and so far I've been very happy with all the exchange gifts I've received. Even if they weren't great, they were clearly made with care & hope that I'd enjoy them. But there seems to be an attitude that if I ever get something I didn't like, it would be my fault for not generating an exhaustive list of DNWs, and I disagree with that for two reasons.
First, it depends on comprehensive fandom knowledge and/or social connections which a lot of people don't have. Like, I've been active in SW fandom exchanges for a couple of years & hang out on meme (obviously), but I'd never heard of Acaciae's bad behaviour before now. If I don't know about Jane Random's obsession with dewclaws or polyfic or what have you, I can hardly tailor my signups & DNWs to avoid them.
The second issue is (as you point out) 99 out of 100 people won't do this unprompted. If the hundredth person does, why is that the fault of the requestor for not anticipating a highly unlikely scenario? As long as pedestrians take some common precautions, we don't blame them for getting hit by a car--or expect them to levitate out of the way of a car that drives up on the sidewalk.
This fic where someone is secretly an eldritch abomination mentions a couple of times that this character usually has more fingers than the normal six. I can't tell if the author is working off of some obscure part of canon that does establish this human-ish species as having six fingers, or if they're writing from the Crab Nebula, or if this is just a weird personal headcanon like Sophie's dewclaws, and it's surprisingly unsettling.
If it's something most people agree is opt-in (the Big Four archive warnings, dewclaws, polycons not in space) or actual spitefic, reject away.
If the author seems to have written in good faith and it's not something on my DNWs list, I'm not going to reject (and I'm not going to feel OK rejecting). I absolutely will add it to my DNWs list next time, though.
Issuefic is kind of on a weird boundary, where some fans think it's fine and/or don't realize that they're writing issuefic. (I am pretty sure that, say, Rosefox, would look at a "DNW: Issuefic" and assume that what they're writing doesn't qualify -- it's just good fiction with a good message! So.) And gender and sexuality headcanons -- I mean I won't write them unrequested, but there are people who do. We've had people on meme say they would. So I think those probably aren't quite at the Big Four level of "most people in exchanges agree these are opt-in."
It would absolutely not hurt mods to put up a post gently reminding authors that they are writing gifts, and they may want to consider whether what they'd prefer to write is what most people would prefer to receive. They don't have to restrict that to issuefic - that applies to noncon, darkfic, fluff, dewclaws, pretty much everything. And that their own personal circles are not indicative of anything. They can't enforce this, but they can damn well set the tone from the start.
I recently noticed one of my gift fics in an exchange was an Acaciae fic after finding some old comments about it on meme. I'd honestly forgotten about the fic because I absolutely HATED it, struggled for a full day to come up with something polite to say about it, left my comment and then promptly put it out of my mind. At the time, I felt like a really bad recip for not liking it and not knowing what to say that wasn't "this...isn't really what I wanted but thanks for the words" without seeming terribly ungrateful, but after finding a comment about Acaciae on meme I recognized the username, went back and saw the additional comments... and I really want to refuse the gift now but it's been almost two years and that seems like it'd be super petty. But I just really did NOT like that fic and now I feel totally justified in my hatred!!
(Also the fact it was an extra treat is kinda funny to me. Like... you didn't even have to write this! I could have not felt upset after reading it and you could have spent your time writing something else!)
And in the end, you should always remember that you will never, ever be able to DNW absolutely everything you dislike. There are always going to be off the wall things you didn't consider that someone writes anyway. (See: dewclaws.) You will never eliminate all risk. But on the flip side, the vast majority of participants don't have exhaustive DNW lists, while rarely or never getting things they DNW. You mention recent issues, but it's also important to remember that while the number seems high, the percentage of participants who had that problem was tiny. 
There's no reason to assume every "what the fuck is this?" gift was written just because of default penalties. There's no reason to assume that even a majority of "what the fuck is this?" gifts were written just because of default penalties.
Some people like writing dewclaws and unrequested second person snuff fic. Some people love their OTP and will write it even if their recip requested something different. Some people are knowmefirst. None of those categories of people are doing it for the default penalties. They're doing it because they're incapable of writing something better or because they're incapable of understanding that their recipient wants something different from what they want to write. 
- Nonnie, here, July 17th, 2015.
- Nonnie, here October 10th, 2017.
- Nonnie, here, August 11th, 2015.
- Nonnie, here, February 20th 2018.
- Nonnie, here, April 4th, 2014.
- Nonnie, here, September 9th, 2014.
- Nonnie, here, October 19th, 2015.
- Nonnie, here, August 18th, 2016.
- Nonnies, here, September 3rd, 2016.
- Nonnie, here, May 25th, 2017.
- Nonnie, here, June 11th, 2017.
- Nonnie, here, September 19th, 2017.
- Nonnie, here, March 16th, 2018.
- Nonnie, here, October 13th, 2018.
- Nonnie, here, October 31st, 2018.
- Nonnie, here, November 1st, 2018.
- Nonnies, here, December 27th, 2018.
- Nonnie, here, February 2nd, 2019.
- Nonnie, here, March 12th, 2019.