See more synonyms for motley on
  1. exhibiting great diversity of elements: a motley crowd.
  2. being of different colors combined: a motley flower border.
  3. wearing a parti-colored garment: a motley fool.
noun, plural mot·leys.
  1. a combination of different colors.
  2. a parti-colored effect.
  3. the parti-colored garment of a jester.
  4. a heterogeneous assemblage.
  5. a medley.

Origin of motley

Middle English word dating back to 1350–1400; see origin at mote1, -ly


  1. John Lo·throp [loh-thruh p] /ˈloʊ θrəp/, 1814–77, U.S. historian and diplomat. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for motley

Contemporary Examples of motley

Historical Examples of motley

  • I trust not the varlet with whom I bartered it for my motley.

    The Armourer's Prentices

    Charlotte M. Yonge

  • I mingled with the motley throng, my ears alert for any spoken opinions.

    The Underdog

    F. Hopkinson Smith

  • The motley passengers were all sound asleep; no one had been disturbed by the fracas.

    Pirates of the Gorm

    Nat Schachner

  • Hundreds of them there were, men of all races and planets, a motley crew.

    Pirates of the Gorm

    Nat Schachner

  • The scene was changed now; the whole room was a mob—“motley the only wear.”

    The First Violin

    Jessie Fothergill

British Dictionary definitions for motley


  1. made up of elements of varying type, quality, etc
  2. multicoloured
  1. a motley collection or mixture
  2. the particoloured attire of a jester
  3. obsolete a jester

Word Origin for motley

C14: perhaps from mot speck, mote 1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for motley

late 14c., "parti-colored" (originally of fabric), from Anglo-French motteley, probably from Old English mot "speck" (see mote). But Klein's sources say probably from Gaulish. "Diversified in color," especially of a fool's dress. Hence, allusively, "a fool" (1600). As a noun meaning "cloth of mixed color" from late 14c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper