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A famine is a severe shortage of food, but not the "I forgot to go to the grocery store and there's nothing to eat in the house" type of shortage. A famine is usually caused by crop failure or disaster.

Although the "extreme shortage of food" meaning is most common, the noun famine can also mean any shortage or insufficiency, and it is often used idiomatically in the phrase "feast or famine." This usage refers to something that is alternately plentiful and scarce — like the feast and famine experienced by an artist who only occasionally sells his paintings.

Choose your words

Caught between words? Learn how to make the right choice.

lay/ lie

The verbs lay and lie are total jerks. People often say lay when they mean lie, but it's wrong to lay around. You have to lay something, anything — lay an egg if you want. But you can lie around until the cows come home!

concurrent/ consecutive

Bad guys don’t like these words because they often describe jail terms: concurrent means at the same time, and consecutive means one after the other in a series. Con artists would rather serve concurrent terms and get them over with, instead of consecutive ones.

your/ you're

You're is short for "you are" and your shows ownership. If you're getting them mixed up, your secret is safe with us. Better yet, here's help! It's your secret. And now you're about to know more. See?

abhorrent/ aberrant

Abhorrent describes something truly horrible like finding a dead rat in your soup, but something aberrant is just abnormal, like a cat in a pink fedora. read more...

complement/ compliment

Both are awesome on a first date — complement means to complete something, and a compliment is flattering. If you feel you and your new friend complement each other, maybe it’s because he’s been giving you so many compliments like when he says you look like a supermodel. read more...

envy/ jealousy

It’s no fun to feel envy or jealousy because both make you feel inadequate. Envy is when you want what someone else has, but jealousy is when you’re worried someone’s trying to take what you have. If you want your neighbor’s new convertible, you feel envy. If she takes your husband for a ride, you feel jealousy. read more...

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