• synonyms


See more synonyms for motley on Thesaurus.com
  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.
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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.
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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.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for motley

kaleidoscopic, disparate, conglomerate, rainbow, assorted, diversified, variegated, mottled, dappled, mixed, discrepant, dissimilar, heterogeneous, indiscriminate, miscellaneous, multicolored, unlike, various, multicolor, multiform

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
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  1. a motley collection or mixture
  2. the particoloured attire of a jester
  3. obsolete a jester
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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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper