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 state’s foster care system has been battered by a litany of problems and headlines over the last year. Matt Stout,, "Couple suing DCF over alleged assault of their daughter by foster child with abusive history," 16 Jan. 2020 Because of a litany of ailments, his Pacers teammates haven’t gotten to play with Brogdon at his best in more than a month. Nathan Brown, Indianapolis Star, "Despite rocky return, Malcolm Brogdon wills Pacers to win: 'Not sure we win without him'," 14 Jan. 2020 The photographer duo, made up of husband-and-wife team Andrea Gentl and Marty Hyers, have become a go-to in the editorial world since the ’90s, their work gracing the pages of many issues of Conde Nast Traveler and a litany of other titles. Megan Spurrell, Condé Nast Traveler, "Photographers Gentl and Hyers Rely On Humor and Luck for the Best Travel Shots," 9 Jan. 2020 Newport’s book described a litany of bad habits—tuning out the world with music, mindless social-media scrolling—that sounded eerily familiar. The Editors, Outside Online, "How to Chill Out and Relax Already," 1 Jan. 2020 Her litany of fears and yearnings acquires an almost sacral quality. Katy Waldman, The New Yorker, "The Best Books of 2019," 2 Dec. 2019 The study details how dubious Defense contractors pose a national security risk by committing a litany of crimes using anonymous shell companies. Max De Haldevang, Quartz, "The US Defense Department lost $875 million to scams involving shell companies," 27 Nov. 2019 There’s also no doubt that his creativity was stifled by a litany of shaky quarterbacks in Miami. Manish Mehta,, "Maybe Sam Darnold will make Adam Gase look good, not the other way around," 6 Aug. 2019 Those concerns were echoed by a litany of conservative and libertarian-leaning think tanks. Allan Smith, NBC News, "After years of big spending, tech's political machine turns to high gear," 3 July 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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Time Traveler for litany

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

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Last Updated

23 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Litany.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 25 January 2020.

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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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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

Comments on litany

What made you want to look up litany? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


dull or mediocre

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