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

The same was true for a litany of free agents over the past few years, from Carmelo Anthony to LaMarcus Aldridge to Kevin Durant to Gordon Hayward. Tim Bontemps,, "For Jeanie Buss, NBA free agency marks the next step in a resurgence for Lakers," 26 June 2018 Read more: In July 2017, the funeral home was shut by state inspectors for a litany of unsanitary conditions, including: Maggots on the floor of the facility's garage and garage door. Detroit Free Press Staff, Detroit Free Press, "Owner of Michigan funeral home with rotting bodies faces felony counts," 11 June 2018 The Pentagon has agreed to fix a litany of problems with the F-35 before moving to full production of the controversial jet. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "Pentagon Agrees to Fix the F-35's Many Problems Before Full Production," 6 June 2018 Setting up the orchestra on the baseball field would produce a litany of logistical nightmares. Madeline Mitchell,, "Friday's Reds game comes with fireworks and some Pops," 5 June 2018 Republican lawmakers were eager to celebrate a litany of legislative victories Friday night as the 2018 session of the Missouri General Assembly adjourned for the year. Jason Hancock, Allison Kite And Tessa Weinberg, kansascity, "GOP lawmakers mark victories in 2018 session despite cloud cast by Greitens’ scandals | The Kansas City Star," 18 May 2018 The public sessions have exposed a litany of bad behavior, from lying to regulators to giving misleading financial advice. Emily Cadman,, "Bank Misconduct Lashed by Australia's Biggest Pension Funds," 16 May 2018 Sofer has been with the Austin office since 2007, and has prosecuted a litany of crimes that include public corruption, terrorism and espionage. Guillermo Contreras, San Antonio Express-News, "More changes at U.S. attorney’s office," 9 May 2018 There has been a litany of other scandals, some involving Uber, Lending Tree, Hampton Creek — the list goes on and on. Julia Belluz, Vox, "How Silicon Valley got played by Theranos," 15 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

18 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for litany

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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to deposit or conceal in a hiding place

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