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[lit-n-ee] /ˈlɪt n i/
noun, plural litanies.
a ceremonial or liturgical form of prayer consisting of a series of invocations or supplications with responses that are the same for a number in succession.
the Litany, the supplication in this form in the Book of Common Prayer.
a recitation or recital that resembles a litany.
a prolonged or tedious account:
We heard the whole litany of their complaints.
Origin of litany
before 900; < Late Latin litanīa < Late Greek litaneía litany, Greek: an entreating, equivalent to litan- (stem of litaínein, variant of litaneúein to pray) + -eia -y3; replacing Middle English letanie, Old English letanīa < Medieval Latin, Late Latin, as above
Can be confused
litany, liturgy.
4. list, catalog, enumeration. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for litany
  • Higher education faces a litany of challenges, and desperate measures are required.
  • The litany of statistics is as deadening as it is depressing.
  • Ask anyone about the activities they perform each a day and they'll rattle off a litany of actions.
  • The statistical litany about violence on television is by now as familiar and ritualized as well, as violence on television.
  • Although evocative and heartbreaking, this litany doesn't tell the full story.
  • There is something magical and stirring about this litany bolstered by a refrain.
  • Before you stop reading, no, this is not another in the long litany of free-market outrage against lobbying and log rolling.
  • The central piece, a litany played against tolling bells, reveals the moment in which music brings time to a stop.
  • The litany of gloomy facts and figures paraded in these contributions, and their tone, are in broad terms familiar.
  • Her on-the-record statements about herself amount to a litany of untruths and half-truths.
British Dictionary definitions for litany


noun (pl) -nies
  1. a form of prayer consisting of a series of invocations, each followed by an unvarying response
  2. the Litany, the general supplication in this form included in the Book of Common Prayer
any long or tedious speech or recital
Word Origin
C13: via Old French from Medieval Latin litanīa from Late Greek litaneia prayer, ultimately from Greek litē entreaty
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for litany

c.1200, from Old French letanie and directly from Medieval Latin letania, Late Latin litania (cf. Spanish letania, Italian litania), from Greek litaneia "litany, an entreating," from lite "prayer, supplication, entreaty," of unknown origin. From notion of monotonous enumeration of petitions in Christian prayer services came generalized sense of "repeated series," early 19c., borrowed from French.

For those who know the Greek words, a litany is a series of prayers, a liturgy is a canon of public service; the latter in practice includes prayer, but does not say so. [Fowler]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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litany in Culture

litany definition

In many religions, a ritual repetition of prayers. Usually a clergyman or singer chants a prayer, and the congregation makes a response, such as “Lord, have mercy.”

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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