Definition of motley in English:



  • Incongruously varied in appearance or character; disparate.

    ‘a motley crew of discontents and zealots’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Assembling a motley crew of accomplices, their poorly conceived plans would be laughable were they not so deadly and, ultimately, tragic.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘By 1998, the BJP had recognised this only too well, cobbling together a motley, and ideologically disparate, bunch of allies.’
    • ‘In contrast to this perception, Miller paints a more realistic portrait of a motley and often fractious group of militants.’
    • ‘A motley little crowd of regulars braved the pouring rain and turned up.’
    • ‘Whatever pedestrian space was left would be jammed with a motley, jostling throng of buyers.’
    • ‘Again, the motley views expressed over the past decade or so reflect different theoretical assumptions.’
    • ‘The public bar was often filled with a motley, but mostly friendly, assortment of bikers and metalheads.’
    • ‘A motley crew of hapless musicians and street performers are seen trying to cheer up citizens in what appears to be a breadline.’
    • ‘So there we were last night at Brandon's bar in the Arcade — a motley collection of journalists and political hangers-on.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘We're down from one hundred to a mere twenty-one, and a motley, ill-assorted collection they are, too.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    miscellaneous, disparate, diverse, assorted, sundry, varied, mixed, diversified, heterogeneous
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  • 1usually in singular An incongruous mixture.

    ‘a motley of interacting interest groups’
    • ‘Chiefdoms are marked by a motley of villages dotted around them.’
    • ‘At the first shop Pam and I settle for a motley of 50s cutlery and kitchen tools.’
    • ‘She had faith in a motley of astrologers and psychics, and it is perhaps a standing reproach that they failed to signal danger.’
    • ‘Now we have a motley of cultures and religions to teach our children.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    mixture, assortment, collection, selection, assemblage, medley, miscellany, melange, mix, variety, motley collection, mixed bag, patchwork, pastiche, blend
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  • 2historical The particolored costume of a jester.

    ‘life-size mannequins in full 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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The deformities of his body are magnified by his motley, and his glassy eye stares all the more blankly for the surrounding grease paint.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘I liked the mice in suits of armour and the Mouse King in red-and-gold 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.’


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