lit·​a·​ny | \ ˈli-tə-nē, 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

For XXXTentacion, streaming has been a saving grace: His legal drama -- including a litany of charges stemming from his 2016 domestic violence case -- has not stopped a large population of listeners from pressing play. Carl Lamarre, Billboard, "Is Radio Starting to Embrace XXXTentacion?," 11 Apr. 2018 His diary shrank to a litany of suffering and a threnody for what might have been. Sara Wheeler, WSJ, "‘The White Darkness’ Review: Coming in From the Cold," 25 Oct. 2018 Black, a fireballer who had to overcome a litany of injuries to reach the majors, struck out 58 batters in 31 2/3 innings with a 2.27 ERA between Class AA and AAA. Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY, "Younger, cheaper, better: Giants pull off trade with Rangers that helps now - and in future," 8 July 2018 The announcement is part of an almost-daily litany of companies warning of fallout from the trade dispute triggered by the U.S. president. Fortune, "Trump's Trade War Claims Another Victim," 28 June 2018 The sanctions could deepen the jeopardy that Iran’s leaders already found themselves in amid a litany of economic woes. Asa Fitch, WSJ, "Iranian President Promises to ‘Break’ New U.S. Sanctions," 5 Nov. 2018 Daredevil has a good core of protagonists in Matt, Foggy (Elden Henson), and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll), and their friendship is one of the more believable and human things in Marvel’s litany of shows. Alex Abad-santos, Vox, "Daredevil season 3 is a return to what made the show so good in season 1," 15 Oct. 2018 The state’s lawsuit says Purdue kept pushing to sell its products despite a litany of red flags. Fox News, "OxyContin maker placed profits over people, lawsuit reveals," 6 July 2018 Both 2017 and 2018 played host to an utter litany of flops. Dj Louie Xiv, Vanities, "Has 2018 Killed the Pop Star?," 22 June 2018

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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Dictionary Entries near litany






Lit B


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Last Updated

9 Jan 2019

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

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on 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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