mot·​ley | \ ˈmät-lē How to pronounce motley (audio) \

Definition of motley

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : variegated in color a motley coat
2 : made up of many different people or things a motley crowd a motley collection of junk



Definition of motley (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : a woolen fabric of mixed colors made in England between the 14th and 17th centuries
2 : a garment made of motley especially : the characteristic dress of the professional fool
3 : jester, fool
4 : a mixture especially of incongruous elements


biographical name
Mot·​ley | \ ˈmät-lē How to pronounce Motley (audio) \

Definition of Motley (Entry 3 of 3)

John Lothrop 1814–1877 American historian

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Motley Might Have Roots in Middle English


Motley made its debut as an English adjective in the 14th century, but etymologists aren't completely sure where it came from. Many think it probably derived from the Middle English mot, meaning "mote" or "speck." The word is also used as a noun identifying a multicolored fabric, a garment made from such a fabric, or-perhaps the best known sense of all-the fool who often wore such outfits in the European courts of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Examples of motley in a Sentence


a motley collection of junk a motley crew of musicians


the motleys with their colorful outfits a motley of old junk stored in the attic
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Bulgari had gathered a motley crew of international stars to witness the spectacle. Monica Kim, Vogue, "Bella! Diplo! Davika! Suho! Bulgari Goes Global for Bzero1’s Fantastic Roman Festa," 20 Feb. 2019 This mainly involves talking to the motley crew of ghost scientists and the island’s owner / sole resident Martin. Michael Moore, The Verge, "The Haunted Island: a Frog Detective Game is a farcical tale of ghosts, vacations to Indonesia, and overzealous dental care," 23 Dec. 2018 Among the motley crew from New York, Boston, Cincinnati, and Seattle, who ranged in age and marital status, were some of Kluger's most devoted patrons. Pilar Guzmán, Condé Nast Traveler, "South Africa’s Other Big Five," 20 Dec. 2018 My family bought our van to make things easier for our motley crew of four, including my husband, myself, and our two kids ages six and three. Megan Barber, Curbed, "Why I love having a microwave in my camper van," 20 Dec. 2018 By the end, a motley band of warriors has been assembled to fight evil. New York Times, "Review: ‘Deadpool 2’ Has More Swearing, Slicing and Dicing from Ryan Reynolds," 14 May 2018 In this classic but controversial choice (for this list anyway), a motley crew slap modified vacuums on their backs and hoover up ghosts around a New York City suddenly plagued by paranormal activity. Joyce Bautista Ferrari, Marie Claire, "The Best Horror Movies That Aren't Too Scary," 29 Oct. 2018 In January 1972, the first major Star Trek convention was pulled together by a motley group of fans at the Statler Hilton in New York City. Devon Maloney, The Verge, "How the first Wakandacon escaped the fan convention curse," 13 Aug. 2018 Consensus is prized, and governments generally include a motley array of parties. The Economist, "Why Indonesia is so bad at lawmaking," 21 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

My father was a motley of sound, a funk band with bottomless drums and songs that knew nothing of fatigue. David Roderick,, "State Lines: Rudy Francisco’s ‘In the Voice of Hip Hop’," 6 July 2018 This motley of topics swirls and eddies and reforms, with exchanges of goofy insults and gossipy asides about whoever happens to be absent from the field at the moment. Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Review: ‘The Wolves’: A Pack of Female Warriors, Each Determined to Score," 11 Sep. 2016

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'motley.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of motley


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for motley


Middle English, perhaps from mot mote, speck


Middle English, probably from motley entry 1

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Dictionary Entries near motley

motive power


mot juste



motley crew


Statistics for motley

Last Updated

6 Mar 2019

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Time Traveler for motley

The first known use of motley was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for motley



English Language Learners Definition of motley

usually disapproving : made up of many different people or things


mot·​ley | \ ˈmät-lē How to pronounce motley (audio) \

Kids Definition of motley

: composed of various often unlike kinds or parts a motley collection of junk

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More from Merriam-Webster on motley

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with motley

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for motley

Spanish Central: Translation of motley

Nglish: Translation of motley for Spanish Speakers

Comments on motley

What made you want to look up motley? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to affect and impair by alcohol or a drug

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