motley

adjective
mot·​ley | \ˈmät-lē \

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

motley

noun

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

Motley

biographical name
Mot·​ley | \ˈmät-lē \

Definition of Motley (Entry 3 of 3)

John Lothrop 1814–1877 American historian

Keep scrolling for more

Motley Might Have Roots in Middle English

Adjective

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

Adjective

a motley collection of junk a motley crew of musicians

Noun

the motleys with their colorful outfits a motley of old junk stored in the attic
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

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 The group’s disbandment, marked by a ceremony on May 4th across the border in France and attended by a motley collection of foreign observers, was a formality. The Economist, "Spain’s ETA Basque terrorists disband," 9 May 2018 The audience of about 16 people is seated on a motley collection of chairs, stools and cushions. Jesse Green, New York Times, "In Solo Shows, Lip-Syncing ‘Hamlet’ and Investigating Home Movies," 9 Jan. 2018 The rescuers were aided by a combination of luck and an outpouring of support from a motley group including military experts, international cave-divers, medical personnel and a Thai rock singer and her fan club. Jake Maxwell Watts, WSJ, "The Thai Cave Rescue, Before Its Triumph, Teetered on the Brink of Disaster," 11 July 2018 In this novel, a motley band of provincials, army deserters, and disenchanted élites descend on Nigeria’s largest city, and story lines and twists abound. George Prochnik, The New Yorker, "Briefly Noted," 24 June 2018 Get our daily newsletter Mr López Obrador’s legislative forces are a motley group of activists, celebrities and professional politicians. The Economist, "Mexico’s motley new congress," 5 July 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, SFChronicle.com, "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.

See More

First Known Use of motley

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for motley

Adjective

Middle English, perhaps from mot mote, speck

Noun

Middle English, probably from motley entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about motley

Listen to Our Podcast about motley

Dictionary Entries near motley

motive power

motivity

mot juste

motley

Motley

motley crew

motmot

Statistics for motley

Last Updated

13 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for motley

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for motley

motley

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of motley

: made up of many different people or things

motley

adjective
mot·​ley | \ˈmät-lē \

Kids Definition of motley

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

Keep scrolling for more

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).

WORD OF THE DAY

by force of circumstances

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Vocab Quiz

  • the-education-of-achilles-eugne-delacroix
  • Which is a synonym of discomfit?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!