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 fund was positioned to benefit from the market improvements because APFC managers kept their cool while markets panicked from the litany of uncertainties everyone faced in spring, according to Rodell, a former state Revenue commissioner. Elwood Brehmer, Anchorage Daily News, "Alaska Permanent Fund rebounds to pass $70 billion as stock markets rally," 9 Dec. 2020 Given the tight results of the Nov. 3 election, Pennsylvania could determine the next president of the U.S., and the Trump campaign and the GOP have filed a litany of lawsuits alleging procedural violations. Morgan Phillips, Fox News, "GOP in Pa. asks SCOTUS to segregate all late-arriving mail ballots," 6 Nov. 2020 The group urged courts to use incentives and individualized case plans to manage juvenile offenders rather than issuing a litany of rules. Jodi S. Cohen, ProPublica, "Judges Are Locking Up Children for Noncriminal Offenses Like Repeatedly Disobeying Their Parents and Skipping School," 22 Dec. 2020 Otherwise, the final weeks of December comprise a litany of end-of-year sales as well as plenty of remaining options for your last-minute gift shopping. Zoe Malin, NBC News, "New and Notable: New products from Burst, Bowflex, Echelon and more," 21 Dec. 2020 Each entered the transfer portal within the past two weeks, joining a litany of Spartans exiting the football program, as coach Mel Tucker looks to remake the culture and roster going into Year 2. Marlowe Alter, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan State football transfers Devontae Dobbs, Julian Barnett go to Memphis," 21 Dec. 2020 Among them is former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, who has filed a litany of lawsuits in states won by Biden. Zachary Halaschak, Washington Examiner, "Michigan House speaker rejects 'mutually assured destruction' of overturning election for Trump," 14 Dec. 2020 According to the Chicago Tribune, the plaintiffs encountered a litany of problems when Gramenos was brought on to turn the garage for their $1.3 million home into a workout studio. Danielle Harling, House Beautiful, "A Lawsuit Against the Hosts of "Windy City Rehab" Has Been "Resolved Cooperatively"," 12 Dec. 2020 Paxton’s suit repeats a litany of false, disproven and unsupported allegations about mail-in ballots and voting in the four battlegrounds. Mark Sherman, Anchorage Daily News, "Trump asks Supreme Court to let him join long-shot Texas lawsuit aiming to overturn election," 10 Dec. 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

17 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Litany.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jan. 2021.

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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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