Definition of motley in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈmɒtli/

adjective (motlier, motliest)

1Incongruously varied in appearance or character; disparate: a motley crew of discontents and zealots
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.
2 archaic (Of clothing) made up of a variety of colours: they wore the motley coat of jesters
More example sentences
  • The ceremony was boring other than seeing faculty and the bishop dressed in their finest motley garments.


1 [usually in singular] An incongruous mixture: a motley of interacting interest groups
More example sentences
  • Michael's first album ‘Missing You’ features an odd motley of styles carefully woven together and united by a great singing voice.
  • At the first shop Pam and I settle for a motley of 50s cutlery and kitchen tools.
  • 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.
2 [mass noun] historical The multicoloured costume of a jester: life-size mannequins in full motley
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.


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

  • The word motley originally described a fabric woven from different-coloured threads, and was later extended to refer to the multicoloured costume traditionally worn by a court jester. To wear motley is to play the fool, and a motley fool is a professional jester. On with the motley is a quote from the English translation of Leoncavello's 1892 opera Pagliacci, about the real-life troubles of a group of comic actors, while motley crew was in use of a mixed bunch of sailors by the mid 18th century. Mottle was formed in the late 18th century from motley.

Words that rhyme with motley


For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: mot¦ley

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