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

Kerr said Tuesday, shrugging his way through a litany of health questions. Ben Golliver, The Denver Post, "As Warriors’ injuries mount, Stephen Curry is picking up more of the slack," 5 June 2019 Last month, a litany of stars — including fellow local Grammy winner Brandi Carlile — gathered at The Forum outside of Los Angeles for a massive Cornell tribute concert. Michael Rietmulder, The Seattle Times, "Chris Cornell wins posthumous Grammy, as two of his children accept award on his behalf," 10 Feb. 2019 The top 500 supercomputers use a litany of chips: Intel mainly supplies the processors, while Nvidia provides accelerator chips that are made similarly to its GPUs. Shannon Liao, The Verge, "The US now has the two fastest supercomputers in the world," 12 Nov. 2018 Electronic implants fuel a litany of on-screen UI icons, as if your character has next-gen Google Glass devices installed in their brain and eyes. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, "Cyberpunk 2077’s hour-long, gun-filled E3 gameplay reveal has gone live," 27 Aug. 2018 In a meat market, rows of aged prosciutto dangle from steel rods above displays of sausages, fresh cuts of meats, and an almost-holy litany of salumi: mortadella, prosciutto pratomagno, pancetta, coppa, lardo, mondiola, biruldu. Necee Regis,, "Resort’s Tuscany cooking class has all the right ingredients," 2 July 2018 The compact, which Chanel sends to a litany of influencers, includes 16 lip products, four more compacts, and four brushes. Sarah Spellings, The Cut, "Beauty Blogger John Mayer Swatches Chanel Lipsticks on His Guitar," 1 May 2018 Air travel is awful for a litany of reasons, from the very serious Boeing 787 controversy to all the not-as-serious canned air can dry out your skin. Leah Prinzivalli, Allure, "This Man Is Going Viral for Shaving His Head on a Flight," 23 Apr. 2019 How To Pick One Choosing from among the litany of options available at outdoor retailers looks impossible, but don’t worry. Kraig Becker, Popular Mechanics, "How to Set Up Camp," 2 Apr. 2019

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

12 Jun 2019

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

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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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