What Does “Dead Dove Do Not Eat” Mean?

You have likely heard the phrase or seen it circulating across social media between millennials, but still have no idea what it means or where it came from (and maybe you were too scared to ask for fear of looking, I don’t know, old?)

Unless you know your cult-classic TV show pop culture references, then you are probably even more confused.

So, let us explain and then you will be clued up the next time you see it. You might even be thankful!

The Show That Started It

The phrase itself comes from the TV show Arrested Development which centres around a dysfunctional family.

The character, Michael Bluth, opens the fridge and takes out a package with a note stuck on it that reads, ‘DEAD DOVE Do Not Eat!’

Most of us would probably feel a little curious as to what is in the package, afterall, who would put an actual dead dove in the fridge?

Well, can you guess what happens next? Yes, he opens it and of course finds the horror of a dead dove.

In response the character says to himself, “I don’t know what I expected”. He found exactly what it said on the package in all its disgusting glory.


Obviously once the cult classic but born again on Netflix show hit our screens once more, memes were bound to pop up in this digital era.

It did not escape becoming forever immortalised on the internet by shared memes, with this scene in particular picking up attention amongst meme makers and meme lovers.

The meme itself explained the idea of something being said, and what was being said is exactly what was expected, but the person not expecting it and instead being surprised by it, even though you knew what to expect.

So, basically reading a note that says there is a dead dove in the bag, opening it and finding the dead dove, but not expecting there to actually be a dead dove, even though you should have expected there to be a dead dove. 

Real Life

That is all it is, really, but it did not stop there. Why just keep it at memes when it can be turned into an actual hashtag to warn others about content. 

People have taken that meme and added it into their digital life as a warning to others, such as using it as a hashtag.

If somebody has written something that people may find offensive such as on a blog or forum, they will use the hashtag #deaddovesdonoteat to warn viewers that the content is exactly what it says it is – immoral or unpleasant – and to not read it expecting it not to be, only to find it is, yet being surprised by its content and becoming upset.

In doing so, they hope to avoid people complaining in the comment section about themes that were already being advertised.


Another reference to the saying is it being compared with “exactly what it says on the tin”. So, you could say that writing about a dead dove on a note is matter of fact and straight to the point. 

As with digital content, the warning signs are there and they are exactly what it says on the tin, so proceed with caution and avoid at all costs if you do not want to be offended.

Final Words

It first began as a meme but has become a hashtag amongst online communities, especially with the likes of fan fiction and social media.

Through these platforms it has become a place to warn others directly about potentially offensive content, rather than as a means to surprise people with it.

So, if you read a warning about dead doves, expect it to be just that. The dead dove means there is a dead dove.