Definition of motley in English:



  • 1Incongruously varied in appearance or character; disparate.

    ‘a motley crew of discontents and zealots’
    • ‘The clerk looked from Ben to the parcels, as if debating momentarily with himself quite what he should do with the motley little collection of brown paper packages.’
    • ‘Accompanied by five other friends, we were a motley group ourselves, due to the multiple nationalities represented, as well as the fact that half of us are vegetarians.’
    • ‘Elsewhere, gun fanciers can pay as much as 1,000 for 800 rounds of ammunition to blast away at a motley variety of banged-up cars, buses and boats with a .50-calibre heavy machine gun.’
    • ‘Dozens of giant steel animals will be pulled through the streets by a motley crew of characters.’
    • ‘It's definitely a ‘local's local’, with a motley crew of characters young and old.’
    • ‘As war loomed in August 1939, Joyce could easily have found himself interned on the Isle of Man, along with a motley crew of British fascists and enemy aliens.’
    • ‘In contrast to this perception, Miller paints a more realistic portrait of a motley and often fractious group of militants.’
    • ‘We're down from one hundred to a mere twenty-one, and a motley, ill-assorted collection they are, too.’
    • ‘I look at everyone and everything around me in the sea of motley colors vibrating in the room.’
    • ‘Alas, when we went on stage that night it was to the usual motley bunch of our mates, girlfriends and hangers on.’
    • ‘Again, the motley views expressed over the past decade or so reflect different theoretical assumptions.’
    • ‘Whatever pedestrian space was left would be jammed with a motley, jostling throng of buyers.’
    • ‘A motley little crowd of regulars braved the pouring rain and turned up.’
    • ‘In the film, the young novice Viridiana does her utmost to maintain her Catholic principles, but her lecherous uncle and a motley assemblage of paupers force her to confront the limits of her idealism.’
    • ‘So there we were last night at Brandon's bar in the Arcade — a motley collection of journalists and political hangers-on.’
    • ‘A motley crew of hapless musicians and street performers are seen trying to cheer up citizens in what appears to be a breadline.’
    • ‘By 1998, the BJP had recognised this only too well, cobbling together a motley, and ideologically disparate, bunch of allies.’
    • ‘The public bar was often filled with a motley, but mostly friendly, assortment of bikers and metalheads.’
    • ‘Assembling a motley crew of accomplices, their poorly conceived plans would be laughable were they not so deadly and, ultimately, tragic.’
    • ‘Set in medieval Asia, it follows a motley crew of diplomats, soldiers and slaves from the kingdom of Koryo as they are rejected and exiled by China's ascendant Ming lords.’
    miscellaneous, disparate, diverse, assorted, sundry, varied, mixed, diversified, heterogeneous
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  • 2archaic (of clothing) made up of a variety of colours.

    ‘they wore the motley coat of jesters’
    • ‘The ceremony was boring other than seeing faculty and the bishop dressed in their finest motley garments.’
    multicoloured, many-coloured, multicolour, colourful, particoloured, many-hued, variegated, harlequin, kaleidoscopic, rainbow, psychedelic, prismatic, polychromatic
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  • 1[usually in singular] An incongruous mixture.

    ‘a motley of interacting interest groups’
    • ‘Going in, I had expected the usual motley of anti-globalization radicals, but the group I was with was a fairly polished, young, professional-looking bunch.’
    • ‘Within the walls of the keep were a motley of low, stone buildings that housed the garrison, supplies, and mounts of the soldiers, engineers and tradesmen that made up the residents of the fortress.’
    • ‘Now we have a motley of cultures and religions to teach our children.’
    • ‘Chiefdoms are marked by a motley of villages dotted around them.’
    • ‘Michael's first album ‘Missing You’ features an odd motley of styles carefully woven together and united by a great singing voice.’
    • ‘This massively influential music producer has spawned a whole motley of lesser soundalikes with his pioneering electronic sounds.’
    • ‘She had faith in a motley of astrologers and psychics, and it is perhaps a standing reproach that they failed to signal danger.’
    • ‘At the first shop Pam and I settle for a motley of 50s cutlery and kitchen tools.’
    mixture, assortment, collection, selection, assemblage, medley, miscellany, melange, mix, variety, motley collection, mixed bag, patchwork, pastiche, blend
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  • 2historical [mass noun] The multicoloured costume of a jester.

    ‘life-size mannequins in full motley’
    • ‘He is remarkable only for wearing his hair like a fool - literally looking like some doleful court jester in black and white motley with a fright-wig hairdo.’
    • ‘The deformities of his body are magnified by his motley, and his glassy eye stares all the more blankly for the surrounding grease paint.’
    • ‘Clad in red, yellow, and green motley, he smirks at us through his fingers in the traditional gesture of one who ‘looks the other way’ in the face of wrongdoing.’
    • ‘When the Duchess of Newcastle appears in public in outlandish attire or publishes her original views on women's position in society, she is not dressed in motley.’
    • ‘She snorted at the thought - if he truly had convinced himself that she was blind to his double-faced ways, he was more of a fool than those who wore motley and feathers and danced for ladies.’
    • ‘I liked the mice in suits of armour and the Mouse King in red-and-gold motley.’


Late Middle English: of unknown origin; perhaps ultimately related to mote.