literature (n.) Look up literature at
late 14c., from Latin literatura/litteratura "learning, a writing, grammar," originally "writing formed with letters," from litera/littera "letter" (see letter (n.1)). Originally "book learning" (it replaced Old English boccræft), the meaning "literary production or work" is first attested 1779 in Johnson's "Lives of the English Poets" (he didn't include this definition in his dictionary, however); that of "body of writings from a period or people" is first recorded 1812.
Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. [Ezra Pound, "ABC of Reading"]
Meaning "the whole of the writing on a particular subject" is from 1860; sense of "printed matter generally" is from 1895. The Latin word also is the source of Spanish literatura, Italian letteratura, German Literatur.
lith (n.) Look up lith at
"joint, limb," Old English liþ "limb, member, joint," cognate with Old Frisian lith, Dutch lid, Old High German lid, Old Norse liðr, Gothic liþus, German glied "limb, member."
lithe (adj.) Look up lithe at
Old English liðe "soft, mild, gentle, meek," from Proto-Germanic *linthja- (cognates: Old Saxon lithi "soft, mild, gentle," Old High German lindi, German lind, Old Norse linr, with characteristic loss of "n" before "th" in English), from PIE root *lent- "flexible" (cognates: Latin lentus "flexible, pliant, slow," Sanskrit lithi). In Middle English, used of the weather. Current sense of "easily flexible" is from c. 1300. Related: Litheness.
lithesome (adj.) Look up lithesome at
1768, from lithe + -some (1). Related: Lithesomely; lithesomeness.
lithic (adj.) Look up lithic at
1797, from Greek lithikos "of or pertaining to stone," from lithos "stone" (see litho-).
lithium (n.) Look up lithium at
silver-white metallic element, 1818, with element ending -ium + lithia, Modern Latin name given by Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848) to the earth from which it was extracted, from Greek lithos "stone" (see litho-). So called from its mineral origin and to distinguish it from two previously known alkalis of vegetable origin.
litho- Look up litho- at
before vowels, lith-, word-forming element meaning "stone, rock;" from comb. form of Greek lithos "stone, a precious stone, marble; a piece on a game board," of unknown origin.
lithograph (n.) Look up lithograph at
1828, back-formation from lithography. As a verb, from 1825. Related: Lithographed; lithographer; lithographic.
lithography (n.) Look up lithography at
1813, from German Lithographie (c. 1804), coined from Greek lithos "stone" (see litho-) + graphein "to write" (see -graphy). The original printing surfaces were of stone. Process invented 1796 by Alois Senefelder of Munich (1771-1833). Hence, lithograph "a lithographic print," a back-formation first attested 1828. Earlier senses, now obsolete, were "description of stones or rocks" (1708) and "art of engraving on precious stones" (1730).
lithology (n.) Look up lithology at
study of rock-formation, 1716, from Modern Latin lithologia, from litho- + -logia (see -logy).
lithosphere (n.) Look up lithosphere at
"solid part of the earth's surface," 1881; see litho- "stone" + sphere.
lithotomy (n.) Look up lithotomy at
1721, from Late Latin lithotomia, from Greek lithotomia, from lithos "stone" (see litho-) + -tomia "cutting" (see -tomy).
lithotripsy (n.) Look up lithotripsy at
1834, from litho- + -tripsy, from Greek tripsis "rubbing," from tribein "to rub, thresh, pound, wear out," from PIE root *tere- (1) "to rub, turn, twist" (see throw (v.)). Klein says the intended Greek word is thryptein "to crush" and there has been "confusion" with tribein.
Lithuania Look up Lithuania at
Baltic nation, from Lithuanian Lietuva, of unknown origin, perhaps from a PIE source related to Latin litus "shore" and thus meaning "shoreland." Related: Lithuanian.
litigant Look up litigant at
1630s (adj.); 1650s (n.), from French litigant, from Latin litigantem (nominative litigans), present participle of litigare (see litigation).
litigate (v.) Look up litigate at
1610s, from Middle French litigier and directly from Latin litigatus, past participle of litigare "to dispute, carry on a suit" (see litigation). Related: Litigated; litigating.
litigation (n.) Look up litigation at
1560s, "disputation," from Late Latin litigationem (nominative litigatio), noun of action from past participle stem of Latin litigare "to dispute, quarrel, strive," from phrase litem agere, from litem (nominative lis) "lawsuit, dispute, quarrel, strife" + agere "to drive, conduct" (see act). Meaning "act of carrying on a lawsuit" is from 1640s.
litigator (n.) Look up litigator at
agent noun from Latin litigare (see litigation). Latin litigator meant "a party to a lawsuit; litigant."
litigious (adj.) Look up litigious at
late 14c., "fond of disputes," from Middle French litigieux and directly from Latin litigiosus "contentious, quarrelsome," from litigium "dispute, strife," related to litigare (see litigation). Meaning "fond of engaging in lawsuits" is from 1620s. Earlier in English than litigate or litigation. Related: Litigiousness.
litmus (n.) Look up litmus at
"blue dye-stuff obtained from certain lichens," early 14c., from Middle Dutch lijkmoes (Dutch lakmoes), from lac (see lac) + moes "pulp." Another theory is that it represents Old Norse litmose, literally "lichen for dying," from Old Norse lita "to dye, to stain," from litr "color, dye" (see lit (n.1)) + mos "moss." Yet another idea connects the first element to Middle Dutch leken "to drip, leak" (see leak (v.)).

Whichever was the original word, it probably was influenced by the others. The dye is obtained from certain lichens. It is naturally blue but turns red in acid and is restored to blue by alkalis. Figurative use of litmus test is first attested 1957, from scientific use of litmus-treated paper as a chemical indicator. Litmus paper with this meaning is from 1803.
litotes (n.) Look up litotes at
rhetorical figure in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its opposite, from Greek litotes, literally "plainness, simplicity," from litos "smooth, plain, small, meager," from PIE root *(s)lei- "slimy, sticky, slippery" (hence "smooth"); see slime (n.).
litter (n.) Look up litter at
c. 1300, "a bed," also "bed-like vehicle carried on men's shoulders" (early 14c.), from Anglo-French litere "portable bed," Old French litiere "litter, stretcher, bier; straw, bedding," from Medieval Latin lectaria "litter" (altered in French by influence of lit "bed"), from Latin lectus "bed, couch," from PIE *legh-to-, from root *legh- "to lie" (see lie (v.2)).

Meaning extended early 15c. to "straw used for bedding" (early 14c. in Anglo-French) and late 15c. to "offspring of an animal at one birth" (in one bed); sense of "scattered oddments, disorderly debris" is first attested 1730, probably from Middle English verb literen "provide with bedding" (late 14c.), with notion of strewing straw. Litter by 19c. had come to mean both the straw bedding and the animal waste in it after use.
litter (v.) Look up litter at
late 14c., "provide with bedding," from litter (n.). Meaning "to strew with objects" is from 1713. Transitive sense of "to scatter in a disorderly way" is from 1731. Related: Littered; littering.
litterateur (n.) Look up litterateur at
"a literary man," 1806, from French littérateur, from Latin litterator "a grammarian, philologist," from littera "letter" (see letter (n.1)). Sometimes Englished as literator (1630s, often with a deprecatory sense). Fem. form is littératrice.
litterbug (n.) Look up litterbug at
1947, from litter + bug (n.). According to Mario Pei ("The Story of Language," Lippincott, 1949) "coined by the New York subways on the analogy of 'jitterbug' ...."
littering (n.) Look up littering at
1540s, of animals, "process of bringing forth young in a single birth," verbal noun from present participle of litter (v.). Meaning "act of furnishing with bedding" is from c. 1600. That of "act of dropping litter" is from 1900.
little (adj.) Look up little at
Old English lytel "not large, not much; short in distance or time; unimportant," also used in late Old English as a noun, "small piece; a short time," from Proto-Germanic *lutilla- (cognates: Old Saxon luttil, Dutch luttel, Old High German luzzil, German lützel, Gothic leitils "little"), perhaps originally a diminutive of the root of Old English lyt "little, few," from PIE *leud- "small." "Often synonymous with small, but capable of emotional implications which small is not" [OED].

Phrase the little woman "wife" attested from 1795. Little people "the faeries" is from 1726; as "children," it is attested from 1752; as "ordinary people" (opposed to the great), it is attested from 1827. Little Neck clams (1884) are so called for Little Neck, Long Island, a "neck" of land on the island's North Shore. Little by little is from late 15c. (litylle be litille). Little green men "space aliens" is from 1950. Little black dress is from 1939.
At the beginning of summer, smart women who stay in town like to wear sheer "little black dresses." Because most "little black dresses" look alike, retailers struggle each year to find something which will make them seem new. ["Life," June 13, 1939]
Little Orphan Annie originally was (as Little Orphant Annie) the character in James Whitcomb Riley's 1885 poem, originally titled "Elf Child." The U.S. newspaper comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) debuted in 1924 in the New York "Daily News."
LITTLE Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you

[Riley, "Elf Child"]
little (v.) Look up little at
OE lytlian, from root of little (adj.).
littleness (n.) Look up littleness at
Old English lytelnes; see little + -ness.
littoral (adj.) Look up littoral at
"pertaining to the seashore," 1650s, from Latin littoralis "of or belonging to the seashore," from litus (genitive litoris) "seashore" (compare Lido), of unknown origin, possibly from PIE root *lei- "to flow." The noun is first recorded 1828, from Italian littorale, originally an adjective, from Latin littoralis.
liturgical (adj.) Look up liturgical at
1640s, from Late Latin liturgicus, from New Testament Greek leitourgikos "ministering," from leitourgos (see liturgy).
liturgy (n.) Look up liturgy at
1550s, "the service of the Holy Eucharist," from Middle French liturgie or directly from Late Latin/Medieval Latin liturgia "public service, public worship," from Greek leitourgia "a liturgy; public duty, ministration, ministry," from leitourgos "one who performs a public ceremony or service, public servant," from leito- "public" (from laos "people;" compare leiton "public hall," leite "priestess;" see lay (adj.)) + -ergos "that works," from ergon "work" (see organ). Meaning "collective formulas for the conduct of divine service in Christian churches" is from 1590s.
Litvak (n.) Look up Litvak at
"Jew from Lithuania," 1892, from Polish Litwak "Lithuanian Jew," originally simply "man from Lithuania."
livable (adj.) Look up livable at
also liveable, 1610s, "likely to survive," from live (v.) + -able. Meaning "conducive to living" is from 1660s; sense of "suitable for living in" is from 1814 ("Mansfield Park"). Meaning "endurable" is from 1841.
live (v.) Look up live at
Old English lifian (Anglian), libban (West Saxon) "to be, to live, have life; to experience," also "to supply oneself with food, to pass life (in some condition)," from Proto-Germanic *liben (cognates: Old Norse lifa "to live, remain," Old Frisian libba, German leben, Gothic liban "to live"), from PIE root *leip- "to remain, continue" (source also of Greek liparein "to persist, persevere;" see leave). Meaning "to make a residence, dwell" is from c. 1200. Related: Lived; living.
According to the Dutch Prouerbe ... Leuen ende laetan leuen, To liue and to let others liue. [Malynes, 1622]
To live it up "live gaily and extravagantly" is from 1903. To live up to "act in accordance with" is 1690s, from earlier live up "live on a high (moral or mental) level" (1680s). To live (something) down "outwear (some slander or embarrassment)" is from 1842. To live with "cohabit as husband and wife" is attested from 1749; sense of "to put up with" is attested from 1937. Expression live and learn is attested from c. 1620.
live (adj.) Look up live at
1540s, "having life," later (1610s) "burning, glowing," a shortening of alive (q.v.). Sense of "containing unspent energy or power" (live ammunition, etc.) is from 1799. Meaning "in-person" (of performance) is first attested 1934. Live wire is attested from 1890; figurative sense of "active person" is from 1903.
live-in (adj.) Look up live-in at
"residing on the premises," 1950, from live (v.) + in. Lived-in "inhabited, occupied" is first recorded 1873.
livelihood (n.) Look up livelihood at
1610s, alteration of livelode "means of keeping alive" (c. 1300), from Old English lifad "course of life," from lif "life" + lad "way, course" (see load). Similar formation in Old High German libleita. Spelling assimilated to words in -hood. Earlier livelihood was a different word, meaning "liveliness," from lively.
livelily (adv.) Look up livelily at
1550s, from lively + -ly (2).
livelong (adj.) Look up livelong at
also live-long, c. 1400, lefe longe (day), from leve, lief "dear" (see lief), used here as an emotional intensive + long (adj). From late 16c. conformed in spelling to live (v.) as lief grew strange. German has cognate die liebe lange Nacht, literally "the dear long night."
lively (adj.) Look up lively at
Old English liflic "living, existing," literally "life-like;" from life + -ly (2). Sense of "active, energetic" developed by early 13c., from notion "full of life."
liven (v.) Look up liven at
1884, colloquial shortening of 17c. enliven, usually with up. Related: Livened; livening.
liver (n.1) Look up liver at
secreting organ of the body, Old English lifer, from Proto-Germanic *librn (cognates: Old Norse lifr, Old Frisian livere, Middle Dutch levere, Dutch lever, Old High German lebara, German Leber "liver"), perhaps from PIE *leip- "to stick adhere; fat." Formerly believed to be the body's blood-producing organ; in medieval times it rivaled the heart as the supposed seat of love and passion, hence lily-livered. Liver-spots, once thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the organ, is attested from 1730.
liver (n.2) Look up liver at
"one who lives (in a particular way)," late 14c., agent noun from live (v.).
Liverpool Look up Liverpool at
English city on the River Mersey, Liuerpul (c.1190) "Pool with Muddy Water," from Old English lifer "thick, clotted water" + pol (see pool (n.1)). "The original reference was to a pool or tidal creek now filled up into which two streams drained" [Victor Watts, "Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names," 2004]. The adjective and noun Liverpudlian (with jocular substitution of puddle for pool) is attested from 1833.
liverwort (n.) Look up liverwort at
late Old English lifenwyrt, from lifer (see liver (n.1)) + wyrt (see wort). A loan-translation of Medieval Latin hepatica. Applied to various plants with liver-shaped leaves or that were used to treat liver disorders. Similar formation in German leberkraut.
liverwurst (n.) Look up liverwurst at
1869, American English, partial translation of German Leberwurst, from Leber "liver" (see liver (n.1)) + Wurst "sausage" (see wurst).
livery (n.) Look up livery at
c. 1300, "household allowance of any kind (food, provisions, clothing) to retainers or servants," from Anglo-French livere (late 13c.), Old French livrée, "allowance, ration, pay," originally "(clothes) delivered by a master to his retinue," from fem. past participle of livrer "to dispense, deliver, hand over," from Latin liberare (see liberate). The sense later was reduced to "servants' rations" and "provender for horses" (mid-15c.). The former led to the meaning "distinctive clothing given to servants" (early 14c.); the latter now is obsolete except in livery stable (1705). Related: Liveried.
livestock (n.) Look up livestock at
1520s, from live (adj.) + stock (n.2).
liveware (n.) Look up liveware at
"people," 1966, computer-programmer jargon, from live (adj.) + ending abstracted from software, etc.