from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A disorderly accumulation of objects; a pile.
  • n. Carelessly discarded refuse, such as wastepaper: the litter in the streets after a parade.
  • n. The offspring produced at one birth by a multiparous mammal. See Synonyms at flock1.
  • n. Material, such as straw, used as bedding for animals.
  • n. An absorbent material, such as granulated clay, for covering the floor of an animal's cage or excretory box.
  • n. An enclosed or curtained couch mounted on shafts and used to carry a single passenger.
  • n. A flat supporting framework, such as a piece of canvas stretched between parallel shafts, for carrying a disabled or dead person; a stretcher.
  • n. The uppermost layer of the forest floor consisting chiefly of fallen leaves and other decaying organic matter.
  • transitive v. To give birth to (a litter).
  • transitive v. To make untidy by discarding rubbish carelessly: Selfish picnickers litter the beach with food wrappers.
  • transitive v. To scatter about: littered towels all over the locker room.
  • transitive v. To supply (animals) with litter for bedding or floor covering.
  • intransitive v. To give birth to a litter.
  • intransitive v. To scatter litter.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A platform mounted on two shafts, or a more elaborate construction, designed to be carried by two (or more) people to transport one (in luxury models sometimes more) third person(s) or (occasionally in the elaborate version) a cargo, such as a religious idol.
  • n. The offspring of a mammal born in one birth.
  • n. Material used as bedding for animals.
  • n. Collectively, items discarded on the ground.
  • n. Absorbent material used in an animal's litter tray
  • n. Layer of fallen leaves and similar organic matter in a forest floor.
  • v. To drop or throw trash without properly disposing of it (as discarding in public areas rather than trash receptacles).
  • v. To give birth to, used of animals.
  • v. To be supplied with litter as bedding; to sleep or make one's bed in litter.
  • v. To produce a litter of young.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A bed or stretcher so arranged that a person, esp. a sick or wounded person, may be easily carried in or upon it.
  • n. Straw, hay, etc., scattered on a floor, as bedding for animals to rest on; also, a covering of straw for plants.
  • n. Things lying scattered about in a manner indicating slovenliness; scattered rubbish.
  • n. Disorder or untidiness resulting from scattered rubbish, or from thongs lying about uncared for.
  • n. The young brought forth at one time, by a cat, dog, sow or other multiparous animal, taken collectively. Also Fig.
  • intransitive v. To be supplied with litter as bedding; to sleep or make one's bed in litter.
  • intransitive v. To produce a litter.
  • transitive v. To supply with litter, as cattle; to cover with litter, as the floor of a stall.
  • transitive v. To put into a confused or disordered condition; to strew with scattered articles.
  • transitive v. To give birth to; to bear; -- said of brutes, esp. those which produce more than one at a birth, and also of human beings, in abhorrence or contempt.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To carry in a litter.
  • To scatter straw, hay, or other similar substance on or over for bedding.
  • To spread a bed for; supply with litter: usually with down.
  • To make litter of; use for litter.
  • To bring forth; give birth to: said of mammals which usually produce a number at a birth, as the sow, cat, rabbit, bitch, etc., or slightingly of human beings.
  • To scatter things over or about in a careless or slovenly manner.
  • To be supplied with a bed or litter for bedding; sleep in litter: as, to litter in the straw.
  • To bring forth a litter of young animals.
  • n. A vehicle consisting of a bed or couch suspended between shafts, and borne by men or horses.
  • n. A form of hurdle-bed on which a sick or wounded person is conveyed from one point to another, as to a hospital in a city, or to a field-hospital on a battle-field.
  • n. A birth or bringing forth of more than one young animal at a time, as of pigs, kittens, rabbits, puppies, etc.
  • n. A number of young animals brought forth at a birth: used with reference to mammals which regularly give birth to more than one young at once, as the sow, bitch, eat, rabbit, etc., and only slightingly of human beings.
  • n. Loose straw, hay, or the like, spread on a floor or the ground as bedding for horses, cows, or other animals.
  • n. Waste matter, as shreds, fragments, or the like, scattered about, as on a floor; scattered rubbish; things strewn about in a careless or slovenly manner; clutter.
  • n. A condition of disorder or confusion: as, the room is in a litter.
  • n. In forestry, the rubbish of dead leaves and twigs scattered upon the floor of the forest.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. conveyance consisting of a chair or bed carried on two poles by bearers
  • n. material used to provide a bed for animals
  • v. strew
  • n. rubbish carelessly dropped or left about (especially in public places)
  • v. make a place messy by strewing garbage around
  • n. the offspring at one birth of a multiparous mammal
  • v. give birth to a litter of animals


Middle English, from Anglo-Norman litere, from Medieval Latin lectāria (influenced by Old French lit, bed), from Latin lectus, bed.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From French litière, from lit, ‘bed’, from Latin lectus; confer Greek λέκτρον. Had the sense ‘bed’ in very early English, but then came to mean ‘portable couch’, ‘bedding’, ‘strewn rushes (for animals)’, ... (Wiktionary)


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  • All the etymologies given seem to be for litter (group of animals). I was wondering if litter (trash) could be from the same Latin root whence literature?

    March 13, 2010