Definition of motley in English:



  • Incongruously 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.’
    • ‘A motley crew of hapless musicians and street performers are seen trying to cheer up citizens in what appears to be a breadline.’
    • ‘The public bar was often filled with a motley, but mostly friendly, assortment of bikers and metalheads.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘We're down from one hundred to a mere twenty-one, and a motley, ill-assorted collection they are, too.’
    • ‘It's definitely a ‘local's local’, with a motley crew of characters young and old.’
    • ‘A motley little crowd of regulars braved the pouring rain and turned up.’
    • ‘In contrast to this perception, Miller paints a more realistic portrait of a motley and often fractious group of militants.’
    • ‘Whatever pedestrian space was left would be jammed with a motley, jostling throng of buyers.’
    • ‘Dozens of giant steel animals will be pulled through the streets by a motley crew of characters.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘So there we were last night at Brandon's bar in the Arcade — a motley collection of journalists and political hangers-on.’
    • ‘I look at everyone and everything around me in the sea of motley colors vibrating in the room.’
    miscellaneous, disparate, diverse, assorted, sundry, varied, mixed, diversified, heterogeneous
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  • 1[usually 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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Now we have a motley of cultures and religions to teach our children.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Michael's first album ‘Missing You’ features an odd motley of styles carefully woven together and united by a great singing voice.’
    • ‘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.’
    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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The deformities of his body are magnified by his motley, and his glassy eye stares all the more blankly for the surrounding grease paint.’


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