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.

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 Russell was one of the game’s great originary figures, its brightest early star, a kind of Adam and a kind of Paul Bunyan, his litany of accomplishments absurd in its length and fable-like texture. Vinson Cunningham, The New Yorker, 1 Aug. 2022 But now, after more than a decade and more than $20 billion in funding, NASA and its litany of contractors are very close to declaring the 111-meter tall rocket ready for its debut launch. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, 28 June 2022 But neither Roy’s stern words nor his itemized litany of how much the shindig is costing him manage to budge her. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 28 Mar. 2022 There is evidence to back that up, even if most on Capitol Hill have their own litany of asterisks to attach to the factsheets. Philip Elliott, Time, 18 Mar. 2022 But the undefeated Bulldogs, with their litany of NBA talent, have yet to face a defense quite like USC’s. Ryan Kartje, Los Angeles Times, 28 Mar. 2021 Establishing herself as a beloved public figure, the first lady used her newfound platform to advocate for civil rights, women’s rights and a litany of other causes. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 15 Apr. 2022 Butts brings a classic country sensibility to this track, a wink at the Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash hit by the same name–though in this song, a litany of broken promises and betrayals bring about the relationship’s demise. Jessica Nicholson, Billboard, 15 Apr. 2022 That’s in addition to his collaboration record with Courtney Barnett, Lotta Sea Lice, his work on a Velvet Underground, and a whole litany of other projects that have called for his time and attention. Corbin Reiff, SPIN, 14 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

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

9 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Litany.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Aug. 2022.

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