lit·​a·​ny ˈli-tə-nē How to pronounce litany (audio)
plural litanies
: a prayer consisting of a series of invocations and supplications by the leader with alternate responses by the congregation
the Litany of the Saints
: a resonant or repetitive chant
a litany of cheering phrasesHerman Wouk
: a usually lengthy recitation or enumeration
a familiar litany of complaints
: 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

How do we love the word litany? Let us count the ways. We love its original 13th century meaning, still in use today, referring to a call-and-response prayer in which a series of lines are spoken alternately by a leader and a congregation. We love how litany has developed in the intervening centuries three figurative senses, and we love each of these as well: first, a sense meaning “repetitive chant”; next, the “lengthy recitation” sense owing to the repetitious—and sometimes interminable—nature of the original litany; and finally, an even broader sense referring to any sizeable series or set. Though litanies of this third sort tend to be unpleasant, we choose today to think of the loveliness found in the idea of “a litany of sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”

Example Sentences

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 Overarching themes of identity and betrayal are tied to the litany of men in her life. Courtney Howard, Variety, 15 May 2023 The former leader of the Massachusetts State Police union was sentenced Wednesday to 2.5 years in prison on a litany of charges for running the bargaining unit like a racketeering enterprise and taking kickbacks from a union lobbyist. Shelley Murphy,, 10 May 2023 Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have been embroiled in a litany of court cases in recent years. Ethan Barton, Fox News, 18 Mar. 2023 In the chat, Kelly even hinted, along with the litany of references to the late ’90s and early 2000s, there may be a number of Easter eggs littered throughout the video for eagle-eyed fans to find that point to more music coming dow the pipeline. Glenn Rowley, Billboard, 17 Mar. 2023 In 2016, a pair of short sellers in London released an anonymous, hundred-page inquiry called the Zatarra Report, alleging a litany of criminal activity at Wirecard. Ben Taub, The New Yorker, 27 Feb. 2023 Nonetheless, the records found at Biden’s office have created a litany of possible political headaches for the president. Justin Sink,, 10 Jan. 2023 This brings us to maybe the greatest challenge of the EV revolution: how to quickly mine lithium (to start the green tech revolution our planet desperately needs) while not leaving behind a litany of ecological disasters and human rights abuses in our wake. Darren Orf, Popular Mechanics, 6 Jan. 2023 Caruso missed half of last season with a litany of injuries, including a fractured wrist, back spasms and sprains to his ankle and foot. Julia Poe, Chicago Tribune, 22 Dec. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'litany.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English letanie, from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French, from Late Latin litania, from Late Greek litaneia, from Greek, entreaty, from litanos supplicant

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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


Dictionary Entries Near litany

Cite this Entry

“Litany.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 May. 2023.

Kids Definition


lit·​a·​ny ˈlit-ᵊn-ē How to pronounce litany (audio)
plural litanies
: a prayer consisting of a series of lines spoken alternately by a leader and the congregation
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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