For Better or For Worse

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Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse has been prominent on the Newspaper Comics scene since its debut in 1979 and ran until 2008, running in over 2,000 newspapers at its peak. Set in Milborough (a fictional suburb of Toronto, Ontario, Canada), the strip's main characters are the Patterson family: parents Elly and John and their children Michael, Elizabeth, and April. All but April are based closely on Johnston's real-life family: herself, (now ex-)husband Rod, and children Aaron and Katie. (Johnston claimed that she created April because she wanted another baby, but knew it wasn't practical for her in real life.)

The strip is perhaps best-known for the fact that, unlike most, it does not use Comic Book Time, and so has taken place more or less in real time for most of its run. Michael and Elizabeth were a young child and a toddler at the strip's beginning, and by the end had grown into adults, with Michael married and raising his own children while Elizabeth married at the end of the strip. Youngest child April was born 11 years into the strip's run and was roughly 16 at the strip's conclusion.

In its heyday, the strip was also celebrated for its realism, eschewing Sitcom stereotypes in favor of a nuanced, relatable look at typical adult, child and teen concerns. A storyline in which a supporting character came out as gay cemented this reputation. Unfortunately, the same intimacy that allows Johnston such insight also takes in her shortcomings and shortsightedness, something the author herself (a proudly self-described "Child of The Fifties") has acknowledged.

This became more apparent in the strip's final years, as -- concurrent with Johnston's discovery that her husband was cheating on her and the subsequent messy divorce -- the strip wound down and the characters began what can only be described as a mad dash to abandon anything that might resemble a personal or professional risk. In particular, Elizabeth abandons an exciting and fulfilling career in a wonderful native community (plus a hot Native cop and wandering helicopter pilot) to return to her hometown and settle down with her HS boyfriend Anthony Caine, amidst many paeans to how steady and hardworking (at the local car dealership) he is. While many fans considered this an appropriately realistic twist, many others, particularly the younger demographic, were severely underwhelmed.

Starting in September 2007, flashbacks to the early years of the strip were interspersed into the present-day plotlines. The last daily strip of For Better or For Worse was published on August 30, 2008, and the last Sunday strip was published the next day. Starting in September 2008, Johnston has in effect been retelling the strip from the beginning, through what she describes as "new-runs". The strip currently consists of a mixture of reprints from the early years with newly drawn strips also set during the era when Michael was a young child and Elizabeth was a toddler.


Tropes used in For Better or For Worse include:
  • Accidental Innuendo: Invoked In-universe when April, having a guitar malfunction in a concert, complains that "(her) G-string broke".
  • Aesop Amnesia: The Pattersons never retain anything they learn, such as Elly's temporary bout of appreciating her husband after he and Phil nearly died on a camping trip Gone Horribly Wrong, or Michael realizing that "bad things don't just happen to other people".
  • Altar the Speed: with Liz and Anthony's wedding.
  • Ambition Is Evil: An unfortunate subtext. Good people know that Fate will reward them; messing about with this Natural Order of Things can only lead to unnatural desires.
    • Thérèse wants to pursue a successful career, and is demonized for not complying with her husband Anthony's wishes and giving it all up to become a stay-at-home mom. The fact that she apparently gets postpartum depression is glossed over by Anthony; when she abandons, then completely rejects her own daughter, it's just Anvilicious.
    • April's sometimes-friend Becky dreams of becoming a star, like the rest of her friends. When she rises to fame, she becomes progressively bitchy, though she does have her occasional sympathetic moments.
    • Liz showed some ambition, becoming a teacher at a First Nation village, learning their culture and bonding with her students. She gave all of it up for Anthony, though according to the epilogue she did resume her work, presumably in her hometown.
    • Perhaps rather tellingly, the only one who's shown to have achieved her ambition is the black sheep of the family, April.
  • And I Must Scream: Grandpa Jim's stroke appears to have left him mentally damaged, but he is in fact just fine mentally. He just can't speak. So we get strips where he mentally begs people to stop babying him, but can only communicate with a loud noise that people take as him thanking them for babying him (or, in one memorable strip, his own grandson calling him 'crazy'). Yeah...
    • A good reminder that this sort of thing happens in Real Life, and that just because a person can't communicate well (or at all) doesn't mean he isn't (potentially) a conscious, thinking person with needs and desires who shouldn't be treated as a vegetable or as a baby. Even some comatose patients have later woken up and proven that they were aware of what was being said around them.
      • Good but likely unintentional, as the only person in the family that still treats him like an adult human being is April, and the rest of the page thoroughly establishes what everyone's supposed to think of her opinions.
  • Animated Adaptation: Seven animated specials and a two-season animated series made by Lacewood Productions for Teletoon.
  • Appeal to Worse Problems: Very frequently used to shut up character's trivial complaints.
  • Art Evolution: Leading to Lynn Johnston having to consciously imitate her earlier style for the post-2008 "new-runs".
  • Attempted Rape: Of Elizabeth, by a coworker. Solely so that Anthony could attempt to have a Big Damn Heroes moment. As the rest of the page notes, it didn't work too well.
  • Author Avatar: Elly.
  • Author Filibuster: The (long) series in Mtigwaki where Elly narrates about the Natives' lives; Shannon's speech about the disabled.
  • Babies Ever After: James Allen, the offspring of Anthony and Elizabeth, shown only in the final strip to make it clear to all readers that this much-discussed couple will be happy together. Not quite Dead Guy, Junior, as James is born in time for his great-grandfather and namesake Jim to hold him before finally expiring.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Played with: Anthony invokes this by pressuring Thérèse to have a child, despite her repeatedly telling him that she's not ready yet. He goes so far as to outright lie to her, promising that she can go back to work after recovering from the birth and he'll be primary caretaker, while fully expecting that once she's popped the baby out, mysterious female hormones will kick in and make her give up her career in a heartbeat for becoming a Housewife. Didn't work. He flat-out admits this while recounting this to Liz later, seeing absolutely nothing wrong with this, and honestly believing that its failure means something is wrong with Thérèse, rather than him. The strip typically sides with him on this matter, it would seem.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Farley
  • Brick Joke: In one strip, the doll Naked Ned gets flushed down the toilet. Years, and I mean years later, a plumber pulls it out of their pipes.
  • Canada, Eh?: The strip is set in Canada, where the author lives. Averted because the strip, while being comfortable expressing its Canadian setting and reflecting cultural trends and history, rarely called special attention to it or played up traditional stereotypes - moose, beer, hockey, "eh", etc. The strip's only prominent police officer (sometimes thought of as a "Mountie" by Americans, but actually a member of the Ontario Provincial Police) showed up near the end of the comic. The only time Johnston really played with it was when she had Michael go to post-secondary school in the midsized city London, Ontario, which is only about 300 kilometers west of Toronto, knowing that there would be people who would think that the boy was studying in the British city.
  • Ceiling Banger: The Kelpfroths, Mike and Deanna's downstairs neighbors in their old apartment. To the point where they eventually caused actual damage, which finally gave the landlady (who hated them as much as Mike and Deanna) the excuse to evict them. Because apparently all the other violations of the terms of their lease weren't good enough reasons - at one point, the landlady even complained that despite their openly violating a no-smoking clause in their tenancy agreement, she refused to evict them because, essentially, it would be hard.
    • Actually, she charges them with smoking on the propery and damage, but says she expects them to win an appeal. (They presumably do, as she complains about the difficulty of evicting them to Elly several months later, and the building fire which they cause is several months after that).
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Early comics, as shown by some of the reruns Johnston has done, were gag-a-day strips with the same general range of humor as Marvin or Baby Blues. Later on, the strip developed a serious streak where the jokes would be mild to nonexistent for brief periods; for example, the below-mentioned coming-out story often had very gentle jokes in the last panel at best. The strip seems to have gone into turnaround mode as it nears the end, ending almost every single strip in a groan-inducing bad pun, no matter how serious the content is supposed to be.
  • Characterization Marches On: In Mira's early appearances [1] when Deanna brought Mike home to meet her parents, she was called "Eva" and was a perfectly pleasant woman with no hint of the meddlesome control freak she became.
    • Having saved these strips from when they ran in the newspaper, it's interesting to note that, when Deanna brought Mike home to meet her parents, "Mira/Eva" was a heavyset, light-haired (blonde, like Deanna?) woman with glasses. Lynn Johnston had apparently forgotten that she had already introduced Deanna's mom as a dark-haired woman without eyeglasses (in the hospital, after Deanna's car accident). So, when the "Dinner with the Sobinskis" storyline was later printed in book form, "Mira/Eva"'s appearance was changed back to her original look (dark hair, no glasses).
      • Maybe Mr. Sobinski was a bigamist.
  • Child-Hater: According to Word of God, Thérèse is one.
    • The Kelpfroths downstairs are implied to be this as well, since the main thing they complain about is the presence of child's toys and various other child-related items being strewn across the property. Despite this being a rather reasonable complaint in a shared living space, the strip naturally took the view that only people who loathed children would dare ask for a clean property.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: With the size of the cast, it is perhaps inevitable that certain characters would be written out of the series. However, several simply vanished without an explanation, until rather contradictory prose accounts were written some years later. Iconic examples would be Connie's stepdaughters Molly and Gayle, who vanished without warning after two years of being the focal point of some drama.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Paving the way for the eventual marriage of Liz and Anthony, Liz's boyfriend Paul cheated on her, and her on-and-off boyfriend Warren started being depicted as a manipulative, unstable quasi-stalker. Meanwhile, Anthony's bitchy Clingy Jealous Wife Thérèse left him for another person after years of (justified!) jealousy over Anthony's feelings for Liz, but since she's portrayed as a Complete Monster, her final appearance in the comic is less resolution and more of the comic making one last attempt to get the readers to hate her.
  • Comic Book Time: One of the more notable aversions, considering its medium.
  • Coming Out Story: Michael's best friend Lawrence, in a storyline that got the strip pulled from many newspapers, either temporarily or permanently.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Partially inverted; Elly frequently complained and carried on about how horrible and thoughtless her family was, although their crimes weren't always as obvious as was clearly intended.
    • The Kelpfroths were horrible neighbors because they chronically complained about Michael and his family, for reasons both valid and invalid. They were also known to repeatedly violate the terms of their lease, so that the landlady could be all gleeful when she finally got an excuse to evict them.
    • April, as The Unfavorite, often had the odd opinion out and was meant to be seen as having the wrong opinion.
  • Cool Uncle: Elly's musician brother has made a few appearances, and the kids just adore him. Hilarity Ensues when he attempts to take them off the parents' hands for a night and he wears himself out trying to get them to bed.
  • Creator Breakdown: Many readers allege that Lynn Johnston suffered one of these in the strip's later years, thanks to a messy divorce from her real-life husband, who was also the inspiration and model for John Patterson.
  • Cuteness Proximity: John with baby Lizzie, although he tries to deny it. Elly isn't fooled.
  • Derailing Love Interests: Pretty much any guy Liz was romantically involved with who wasn't Anthony would be revealed to be a Jerkass, cheat, or rapist, in order to make Anthony look better by comparison.
  • Drinking the Kool Aid: A lot of snarkers refer to Lynn's avid fanbase as the Kool-Aid Nation, and make reference to Kool-Aid drinking on the part of many of the characters (especially the Pattersons).
  • Evil Counterpart: Mira, Michael's mother-in-law, is one for Elly.
  • "Fan" Nickname: Blandthony, courtesy of the commentariat at The Comics Curmudgeon.
  • First Girl Wins: Both Liz and Michael end up marrying their elementary school sweethearts.
  • Flanderization: Pretty much everyone in the last few years of the strip.
  • Flowery Elizabethan English: someone who steals the door of Michael's dorm room talks like this when Michael asks where his door is.
  • Fun with Flushing: April flushed something, probably a toy boat, down the toilet when she was a toddler. It was the punchline of a strip where they define the word "goomby" or something similar (that's what April says upon flushing it; rhymes with "good-bye"). The following strip shows the father with a plunger, and eventually picking the commode up off the base, saying "Whoever called that thing a convenience never had small children!"
  • Generation Xerox: Michael's family life is exceptionally similar to that of his own parents, with him eventually moving into their house with his similarly-made-up brood. Also one of the major criticisms of Elizabeth's relationship with Anthony: Elizabeth suddenly couldn't wait to shed the boredom and monotony of teaching school amid a different culture in a beautiful part of Canada for the wonderful excitement of settling down to be as much like her homebody parents as possible.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Quite a bit. Here's one example.
  • Heroic Dog: Farley suffers a fatal heart attack while rescuing April from drowning in a stream.
  • High School Sweethearts: Liz and Anthony, Gordon and Tracey, plus elementary school sweethearts Mike and Deanna. In fact, a running mockery of the strip has become that everyone in the Foobiverse must marry the first non-related person of the opposite sex they meet. The last non-"new-run" strips reveal that April moved to the other side of the country and hooked up with an unnamed "country boy", a fact which elicited cheers; the readers just wanted to see one Patterson kid escape the web.
  • Housewife: Elly Patterson, and seen as the "natural role" of women in the strip, despite Elly hating the job.
  • House Fire: The December 2006 story arc where Michael, Deanna and their children are forced from their duplex home due to a fire in the downstairs unit (caused by the occupant smoking in bed).
  • Hypocritical Humour: A staple, especially in the strips involving Elly's parenting or home-making skills.
    • One week-long arc had Elly and John flipping out when April wanted to skip eating dinner with them and finish up her homework. After being forced to apologize and join them, Elly lectures about how mealtimes are for them spending time as a family and discussing their day. Cue the usual Pattersnarfing "CHOMP CHEW SMACK" from both parents, now completely ignoring their daughter after dragging her back into her place.
  • Idiot Ball: Michael picked up a huge one when he left Deanna to get their two young children out of the apartment alone during a fire, while he rushed back up to his "writing room" to collect the laptop containing his freshly completed first novel. Even published writers who were fans of the strip criticized this. (Adding exponentially to the surreality, Johnston later admitted she was using the laptop in this story simply as an update for "paper manuscript" and thus hadn't considered backups, the fact that Mike had emailed his mother a copy, etc.)
  • Informed Ability: Michael's writing "genius", when shown excerpts of his writing are generally regarded as cliché at best or junk at worst; Anthony's positive traits and suitability as a husband as related by everyone Elizabeth knows.
  • Informed Flaw: Just as Anthony has a myriad of informed abilities, his ex-wife Thérèse is given a myriad of informed flaws. She rarely appears in the strip proper, so for the most part we have only Anthony's point of view and the local gossips to provide us with these "facts". Note that the only times we see her acting on any of them are fairly mild and sometimes even justified (i.e. her jealous suspicions that her husband was still obsessed with Liz).
    • April is supposedly a rebellious teenager, yet is only occasionally shown talking back to her parents. Note that in the strip's eyes, things like deciding to skip dinner to focus on finishing her homework, insisting that somebody is stealing from her mother's store and abusing her trust, and reminding them of promises they've completely broken all count as being "defiant".
  • Innocent Swearing: April does this at one point.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Shannon, who despite her speech impediments apparently had no flaws and made inspirational speeches at the drop of a hat. Shannon is also based off of a relative of Johnston's, which might explain why the character is used as a mouthpiece in defense of the disabled.
  • Instant Book Deal: Michael, pretty much once he decides on this as a career.
  • Karmic Death: Michael's former neighbors, the Kelpfroths, were depicted as child-hating monsters; the husband smoked heavily and despite the fact it was against their leasing agreement. He eventually set the whole building on fire with his evil habit, with only Michael's family escaping the carnage of the Kelpfroths apparently burning alive in their own apartment.
    • Word of God states that they did not die, but were hospitalized with severe smoke inhalation. However, since they were never seen in the strip again, they might as well have died for all they further impacted the Pattersons' lives.
  • Lack of Empathy: The Pattersons are frequently accused of this, due to Protagonist-Centered Morality.
    • Perhaps best illustrated by Michael when he witnessed a car accident; unlike his friend Weed, who wanted to help, Michael was more interested in snapping photos of the wreck for an exclusive story, and became outraged when police shooed him off. He only briefly regretted his actions upon learning his childhood crush Deanna was in one of the cars; this did not, however, stop him from insisting that the accident was "fate bringing them back together".
    • It gets a bit worse when you learn that Deanna was based on a real-life girl/friend (I'm not sure which) of Johnson's son who died in a car accident. The woman wants to Retcon real-life so badly... [2]
  • Lickspittle: The strip's site has no forum, but some of the regular contributors to the letters page can veer close to this.
  • Life Embellished: April was created because Johnston wanted to have another child but wound up not actually doing so.
    • Michael and Elizabeth's eventual marriages came despite Johnston's own children having yet to "settle down" at the time.
  • Like Is, Like, a Comma: Teenaged April, like, speaks like this, like, often. Like.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: Anthony was often compared to John, by other characters and John himself. Naturally, this is why he was the perfect man for Liz. Draw your own conclusions about what this means...
  • Limited Wardrobe: Usually played straight, but for awhile, as the plots became more complicated, the characters' outfits started to get more complicated and varied. By the end of the strip, however, everyone, men and women, appeared to just wear a t-shirt and pants outside of special occasions.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: See here for a comprehensive list.
  • Lost Wedding Ring: Liz once lost Deanna's engagement ring while trying it on.
  • Mandatory Motherhood: Rigidly enforced. And apparently, you're supposed to have exactly one girl and one boy. In fact, families that dared to be composed of more than this one boy/one girl ratio ended up getting demonized just as much as the childless couples did. (Especially if said family was a blended one.) Which is probably yet another reason April is The Unfavorite: she screws up the ratio.
  • Maternally Challenged: Thérèse has no real desire for a child, and only agrees to have one when Anthony promises he'll feed it and clean up after it and everything while she resumes her career -- while secretly hoping all the while that pregnancy will cause some sort of maternal instinct to kick in. When it doesn't, this is shamelessly used to clear Anthony's moral path to the much more conventionally-minded Elizabeth.
  • Meddling Parents: Both Deanna's parents and the Pattersons, though the former is treated more severely than the latter.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: The only teenage female character who has pre-marital sex is the "roadside hands-on gig" Becky, who gets demonized for it.
  • My Hair Came Out Green: Liz goes for a dye job, and apparently her hair ends up bright purple.
  • My Own Private I Do: Michael and Deanna secretly married before moving in together. Later, his mother-in-law Mira got to plan a big, fancy wedding for them, while Mike, Deanna, and everyone else let in on the secret mocked her behind her back, making light of all the fuss. Of course, once Liz and Anthony's wedding rolled around...
  • Not So Different: John and Anthony. They not only resemble each other a lot, but Anthony cheated on Therese with Elizabeth, and there are implications that John had cheated on Elly.
  • Only Sane Man: April at times, who doesn't have her family's lack of empathy, marries someone who is not a childhood sweetheart, and is pretty much supposed to be Lynn's Butt Monkey... people love her.
  • Out of Focus: John, in the later years. Fridge Brilliance sets in when you consider that Lynn Johnson's husband cheated on her, and since John is based off the ex-hubby, Johnson was clearly trying to write him out!
  • Playing Pictionary: One strip has young Elizabeth showing her father a painting after a day of preschool. Her dad starts to comment on what a nice face it is -- until Elizabeth interrupts to tell him that it's just a pizza.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: By definition, the Pattersons are their creator's mouthpieces... which becomes a serious problem when their creator needs to work out issues. Over time, a distinct "if you're not with the Pattersons, you're against them" theme emerged.
  • Pungeon Master: Almost every punchline is a horrible pun like this. Grandpa Jim can't even speak much and is close to death, and he STILL makes puns in his head.
  • Rail Enthusiast: John, who became so obsessed with this in the declining years of the strip that it moved him Out of Focus.
  • Rape as Drama: The "going after". Lynn later stated that she was surprised that readers actually wanted to see Howard punished -- the attack had been his only role in the story, and she saw nothing wrong with simply letting him leave afterward, as who cared about what he might do afterward so long as he didn't bother the Pattersons again?
  • Rape as Redemption: While she was "merely gone after", Elizabeth's Near-Rape Experience had uncomfortable undertones of this, as it was used to drive her back home into the smothering care of her parents until Anthony was "on the market" again.
  • Reality Subtext: The character of Lawrence was partly based on a gay friend of the author's, Michael Boncoeur, who was murdered by a bicycle thief. The attitude of the police at the time was to make the murderer into the victim solely because Boncoeur was gay, which may be why the strip differs from other family strips in its unwillingness to uncritically praise the police.
    • Note, however, that Lynn has told several different "TRUE" versions of what inspired various storylines, the famous Lawrence story included, making this version of how she was inspired... questionable, at best.
  • Romantic False Lead: Mason and Julia, thrown in at the last minute to (rather unsuccessfully) add suspense as to whether Liz and Anthony would finally hook up.
  • Romantic Runner-Up: Anthony. Or, at any rate, he seems like he should be one of these, and the strip's insistence on making him Elizabeth's "man of destiny" regardless of this goes a long way toward explaining the extreme antipathy he inspires in the readership.
    • Heck, despite Johnston's efforts this may as well be canon, as Liz consistently only resorted to Anthony as her last choice, after exhausting all other possibilities. Really, their relationship got nicknamed "The Settlepocalypse" for a very good reason.
  • Self-Serving Memory: The reason for the Patterson's inability to learn from their past; Elly, for instance, honestly believes that she was a loving, firm, fair and calm parent, when in fact she was none of those things.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: An unfortunate side-effect of Hypocritical Humour overload. Elly constantly complains about how nobody ever helps her with the chores... but berates anyone who tries because they're "doing everything wrong". She uses passive-aggressiveness on her husband, then laments that he never gets the message; wobbles and wrings her hands over punishing her children for misbehaving, then whines that she simply doesn't understand how they could be so rowdy.
  • Series Continuity Error: A common accusation leveled at the author, over everything from basic fact-checking to apparently being unable to keep elements of her own strip straight, causing character ages, appearances, personalities and even names to flux wildly, particularly in the last few years. She has on occasion openly admitted that her readers keep better track of her continuity than she can be bothered to.
  • She's All Grown Up: Elizabeth, on her Wedding Day.
  • Shipper on Deck: Everyone for Liz and Anthony, except April.
  • Shown Their Work: In the Animated Adaptation when Michael is working at a hot dog stand, his boss explains to him that, out of a pack of six hot dogs being sold, only the sixth sale is what he gets to keep. Granted, this really isn't something that only a business major would know, but it actually is nice to see someone explain that not every sale of something equals profit, especially in an animated show.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Lynn Johnston's notorious inability to remember the ages of her characters lead to interesting things like Mike's one year older friend Gordon (with spouse Tracey) aging from their twenties to their sixties in the space of a few years, Anthony's two-year-old daughter Francie speaking and looking like an exceptionally articulate ten-year-old, and Liz's student Jesse transforming from adorable seven-year-old tyke to tall and teenaged in the space of only three years.
As for Gordon's appearance, men really can begin losing their hair in their 20s, but in his case the physical changes went far more extreme, to the point that he looked more like a contemporary of the elder characters. (Johnston later admitted in interviews that she'd just decide to change the way a character is depicted sometimes, leading to some abrupt shifts in age and appearance.
  • Speech Bubbles Interruption
  • Stalker with a Crush: Liz's coworker Howard Bunt, whose obsession eventually culminates in the Attempted Rape mentioned above.
  • Stalking Is Love: At least when Anthony does it!
  • Invisible to Gaydar: Michael's childhood best friend, who came out in a series of dramatic strips.
  • Straw Feminist: Thérèse.
    • Connie originally was this in the earliest strips just so Elly could have a nemesis, but she became more sympathetic over the years.
  • Strip Archive: All the strips, even ones that were never put into collections, are now available for free on the strip's website.
    • They have put a block over strips that are due to be reprinted in the near future, however, along with a line about "not spoiling the surprise".
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Edgar the dog, for Farley (his dad).
    • It seems that Lynn had originally planned to pair Liz off with Christopher Nichols; when she placed his family under embargo because of his parents' marital problems, she created a look-alike with freckles and eyeglasses: Anthony.
  • Take That: The "new runs" seem to be one long series of these toward her now ex husband.
  • Toilet Humour: Used sometimes.
    • Used almost constantly in the author's daily notes accompanying the strips on the official website.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl:
    • Tomboy April likes animals, plays in a band, and moves away to a city in another province and stays there for good, vs. Girly Girl Elizabeth chooses a traditionally feminine profession, moves back home because she becomes homesick in Mtigwaki, and marries her high school boyfriend.
    • Career woman Therese does not want children, does not stay home after giving birth, and lets her ex-husband have full custody of her daughter, vs. Deanna getting pregnant by "planned accident" and leaving her career to start a sewing school.
  • Totally Radical: Johnston, in an attempt to avoid dating the strip too badly (and probably also to get around syndicate censorship), tries to create her own teenage slang for stuff. Some of these are so ridiculous-seeming that one, the insult "foob", became synonymous with the strip, hence the Fan Nickname. One website mocking the strip still sells T-shirts with the phrase "Roadside", an attempt by Johnston to create her own slang for frisky teens.
  • The Unfavourite: April is treated as if she's a selfish little monster for, you know, her parents having her late in their lives and thus being ready to retire when she's not old enough to kick out of the house.
    • Oddly enough, this seems to transcend the comic, where April became Johnston's unfavorite... which is really weird when you consider why the character was created. You could generally tell if a person, thing, or activity was supposed to be viewed negatively because April would adore it. These "negative" acts included things like adoring her ailing grandfather and going out of her way to spend time with him, disapproving of Anthony cheating on his wife with Liz...
      • And despite Johnston's efforts, April ironically ended up as one of the more the most reasonable and sympathetic character, even ending up as an Ensemble Darkhorse.
  • The Unpronounceable: Mtigwaki, the First Nation village Liz taught at.
  • Unsound Effect: Used frequently.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Often mixes with the wholly invented slang mentioned in Totally Radical above, where characters will use an Unusual Euphemism that Johnston invented... and then have to explain it by using a more standard euphemism. ("Boxcar!")
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: First variety, due to Values Dissonance. One notable example had Elly throwing a fit about her horrible spawn April and prompted John to loom ominously over his youngest daughter, implying he intended to beat her if she didn't immediately come down and apologize to her mother. And why, do you ask...? Because April politely told her she wasn't eating dinner with the family that evening, in order to finish her homework.
  • Wham! Episode: Farley's death, Lawrence's coming out.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue: The 8-31-08 strip. Note how all the "good" females settle down to things like teaching, sewing, and homemaking, and only the Patterson family "black sheep" April escapes this.
  • Wish Fulfillment: Many have pointed out that the picture-perfect wedding between Elizabeth and Anthony followed suspiciously closely on Johnston's real-life divorce. Others have suspected that she may not have been pleased with how her real children, upon whom Michael and Liz are based, lived their own lives. In a less depressing vein, April was born because Johnson had wanted (but not had) a third child. Lynn knew it wasn't really practical in real life and said in the Animated Adaptation that she did the next best thing.
  • Wring Every Last Drop Out of Him: Grandpa Jim.
  • Writer on Board: Sometimes with unfortunate results, as per Protagonist-Centered Morality above. A blatant one-off example is a Sunday strip from a couple of years ago about the Pattersons "going green", while the rest of the world continues to waste and rot.
  • Write What You Know: A number of the stories in this strip are almost certainly based off of Real Life experiences Lynn Johnson has. Of course, there are indications that she doesn't know about some of the things she's writing about!
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Mrs. Saltzman peppered her speech with increasingly more Yiddishisms as time went on.
  • You Fail Pharmacology Forever: Deanna's claim that she, a licensed pharmacist, didn't know switching birth control meds would leave you more fertile between cycling off the old and starting the new. (The dual result of this "oopsie" was their first child, Meredith -- conception occurred on their honeymoon -- and the fan theory that she deliberately did this.)
    • This is lampshaded later when Elizabeth's friend Candace points out how unlikely it would be for a pharmacist to make such a mistake.
  1. post the accident that reunited Mike and Deanna, that is. She turned up at the hospital, unnamed, looking nothing like "Eva" did (though like a slimmer version of the eventual "Mira") but had a very sweet, gentle personality.
  2. Though again, Lynn's stories about "what inspired a given storyline" vary; she's also claimed to have based the incident on her son trying to photograph a suicide by hanging in the park, or on a car accident involving a male childhood friend.