lit·​a·​ny | \ ˈli-tə-nē How to pronounce litany (audio) , ˈlit-nē \
plural litanies

Definition of litany

1 : a prayer consisting of a series of invocations and supplications by the leader with alternate responses by the congregation the Litany of the Saints
2a : a resonant or repetitive chant a litany of cheering phrases— Herman Wouk
b : a usually lengthy recitation or enumeration a familiar litany of complaints
c : a sizable series or set a litany of problems The drug has a litany of possible side effects.

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A Short History of Litany

Litany came to English through Anglo-French and Late Latin, ultimately from the Greek word litaneia, meaning "entreaty." Litany refers literally to a type of prayer in which a series of lines are spoken alternately by a leader and a congregation. This use dates to the 13th century. Between that century and the 20th, three figurative senses developed. The chant-like quality of a literal litany led first to a "repetitive chant" sense. Next, the repetitious—and sometimes interminable—nature of the original litany led to a "lengthy recitation" sense. Finally, the "lengthy recitation" sense was extended to refer to any sizable series or set.

Examples of litany in a Sentence

He has a litany of grievances against his former employer. The team blamed its losses on a litany of injuries.
Recent Examples on the Web The litany of police killings in the Twin Cities includes Philando Castile in 2016 – his girlfriend live-streaming the aftermath on Facebook. CBS News, "Lessons from the Derek Chauvin verdict," 25 Apr. 2021 Healey argued that Ellison was just the latest state attorney general to show the importance of the job, citing the litany of Democrats in those posts who helped thwart Republican efforts to circumvent voters during the 2020 election. Dan Merica, CNN, "After Ellison's role in Chauvin trial, Democrats look to invest in attorney general races," 22 Apr. 2021 This drop is in some ways more curious since ETHE does not have the same litany of competitors as GBTC. Javier Paz, Forbes, "Will Grayscale Plan To Convert GBTC To A Bitcoin ETF Work?," 8 Apr. 2021 The wretched litany is a nearly Hobbesian nightmare: nasty and brutish, but not short. Sigrid Macrae, Harper's Magazine, "Two Germanys," 16 Mar. 2021 The never-ending litany of grievances, affronts and bombast helped Trump turn so many corners that the history of his time in politics looks like a maze. Philip Elliott, Time, "The Texas Governor Reaches for Culture War to Dodge Blackout Criticism," 4 Mar. 2021 Her twins Billy and Tommy are able to age up at will, things from the outside world can still enter her warped reality (like, Monica Rambeau and the litany of S.W.O.R.D. drones sent in), and her brother is actually alive. Ineye Komonibo,, "WandaVision’s Major Cameo, Explained For The Average Viewer," 6 Feb. 2021 Many private, charter and public schools have reopened in the Bay Area, following county requirements and a litany of mitigation efforts. Meghan Bobrowsky, San Francisco Chronicle, "Defying union leaders, Oakland teachers group protests April schools reopening," 17 Mar. 2021 The 22 demonstrators deny charges of committing sedition and a litany of other offenses, which includes lese majeste, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison for each count. Reuters, CNN, "Thai protest leaders go on trial for sedition and insulting the king," 15 Mar. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'litany.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of litany

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for litany

Middle English letanie, from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French, from Late Latin litania, from Late Greek litaneia, from Greek, entreaty, from litanos supplicant

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The first known use of litany was in the 13th century

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Last Updated

5 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Litany.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for litany



English Language Learners Definition of litany

: a prayer in a Christian church service in which the people at the service respond to lines spoken by the person who is leading the service
: a long list of complaints, problems, etc.

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