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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. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for litany
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • This was his commendation, from hour to hour; it made up the litany of his gratitude for what she had been to him.

    Meadow Grass Alice Brown
  • At 11.30 we had the litany, at which I was able to be present, on deck.

    The Last Voyage Lady (Annie Allnutt) Brassey
  • I was able to attend the litany at 11.30, and evening service at 4.

    The Last Voyage Lady (Annie Allnutt) Brassey
  • The petition had not yet been erased from the litany—why should it ever have been?

    Clare Avery Emily Sarah Holt
  • They prayed for the cause of missions in their Sunday litany.

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 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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