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 Fragmented water systems across the country have a litany of critical vulnerabilities that will ensure that the worst effects of water scarcity will hit the most vulnerable people in society the hardest. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "Another disaster is ready to catch the US unprepared: Drought," 17 Apr. 2020 For a litany of catastrophes, including hurricane, earthquake, cyber, terror and flood, companies have resilience plans and insurance to manage their exposure—but not for epidemics. Nathan Wolfe, Time, "COVID-19 Won't Be the Last Pandemic. Here's What We Can Do to Protect Ourselves," 15 Apr. 2020 The bigger issue is that much of Dolittle appears to have a litany of these clumsy post-production glitches, even by the slapdash standards of children's entertainment. Jesse Hassenger, TheWeek, "The not-so-parallel careers of Robert Downey Jr. and Will Smith," 17 Jan. 2020 Ghosn was due to face trial in Japan for a litany of charges involving alleged mismanagement of Nissan's money. Aj Willingham, CNN, "5 things to know for December 31: Wildfires, Nissan, Russia call, opioids," 31 Dec. 2019 But Trump and Bolton had a litany of policy differences — on Iran, North Korea, Syria and, apparently, Ukraine. NBC News, "In private speech, Bolton suggests some of Trump's foreign policy decisions are guided by personal interest," 12 Nov. 2019 The opera begins with a litany of contemporary European opera clichés. Matthew Aucoin, The New York Review of Books, "Opera at the Edge," 7 Dec. 2019 The four men were hit with a litany of charges, including burglary with a deadly weapon, criminal confinement with a deadly weapon, and attempted armed robbery. Zachary Halaschak, Washington Examiner, "Men accused of holding woman captive in attempt to steal her coronavirus relief money," 24 Apr. 2020 Howard tells him, letting him down with a litany of clichés. Los Angeles Times, "How Arthur Miller speaks to our pandemic economy in ‘Death of a Salesman’," 23 Apr. 2020

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

28 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Litany.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for litany


How to pronounce litany (audio)

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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More from Merriam-Webster on litany

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for litany

Spanish Central: Translation of litany

Nglish: Translation of litany for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of litany for Arabic Speakers

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