a. Carelessly discarded refuse, such as wastepaper: the litter in the streets after a parade.
b. A disorderly accumulation of objects; a pile. “An iron washstand [stood] in the corner amidst a litter of soap and soiled towels” (Molly Gloss).
2. The group of offspring produced at one birth by a mammal.
a. Material, such as straw, used as bedding for animals.
b. An absorbent material for covering the floor of an animal's cage or litterbox.
4. An enclosed or curtained couch mounted on shafts and used to carry a single passenger.
5. A flat supporting framework, such as a piece of canvas stretched between parallel shafts, for carrying a disabled or dead person; a stretcher.
6. Fallen leaves and other decaying organic matter that make up the top layer of a forest floor.
v. lit·tered, lit·ter·ing, lit·ters
1. To give birth to (a litter).
2. To make untidy by discarding rubbish carelessly: Someone had littered the beach with food wrappers.
3. To scatter about: littered towels all over the locker room.
4. To be scattered about (an area): “A lot of torn envelopes and open letters littered his bed” (Joseph Conrad).
5. To include certain items such as expressions throughout (a speech or piece of writing, for example): littered his letters with the names of powerful friends.
6. Archaic To supply (animals) with litter for bedding or floor covering.
1. To give birth to a litter.
2. To scatter litter.
[Middle English, couch mounted on shafts for carrying a person, straw strewn as bedding for animals, litter of young, from Anglo-Norman litere : lit, bed (from Latin lectus, bed; see legh- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots) + -iere, -ere, noun suffix (from Latin -āria, feminine singular and neuter plural of -ārius, noun and adjective suffix).]
(click for a larger image)litter
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.