motley

adjective
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

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 How to pronounce Motley (audio) \

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 Billy Beane; in Flashboys, a stock market reformer named Brad Katsuyama; and in The Big Short, a motley assortment of non-comforming finance industry insiders. Karl Vick, Time, "Michael Lewis Found the People Who Should Have Been in Charge During the Pandemic," 3 May 2021 The pair, long-Time YouTube celebrities known for food videos, internet crafts, and managing their motley pack of loveably weird dogs, have reportedly been together since 2013. Halle Kiefer, Vulture, "YouTube’s Jenna Marbles and Julien Solomita Are Engaged After Eight Years of Dating," 16 Apr. 2021 Their traveling party becomes a motley heroic crew, picking up a 10-year-old shrimp boat captain (Izaac Wang), a toddler con artist and a gruff lonely dude (Benedict Wong). Brian Truitt, Detroit Free Press, "Intense action, warrior women make Disney fantasy ‘Raya’ memorable," 6 Mar. 2021 Their traveling party becomes a motley heroic crew, picking up a 10-year-old shrimp boat captain (Izaac Wang), a toddler con artist and a gruff lonely dude (Benedict Wong). Brian Truitt, Detroit Free Press, "Intense action, warrior women make Disney fantasy ‘Raya’ memorable," 6 Mar. 2021 Outside the courthouse, a motley band of Black Lives Matter activists had commandeered the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 5th Street. Fox News, "Eli Steele: Justice for George Floyd from honking horns?," 5 Apr. 2021 Their traveling party becomes a motley heroic crew, picking up a 10-year-old shrimp boat captain (Izaac Wang), a toddler con artist and a gruff lonely dude (Benedict Wong). Brian Truitt, Detroit Free Press, "Intense action, warrior women make Disney fantasy ‘Raya’ memorable," 6 Mar. 2021 Their traveling party becomes a motley heroic crew, picking up a 10-year-old shrimp boat captain (Izaac Wang), a toddler con artist and a gruff lonely dude (Benedict Wong). Brian Truitt, Detroit Free Press, "Intense action, warrior women make Disney fantasy ‘Raya’ memorable," 6 Mar. 2021 Their traveling party becomes a motley heroic crew, picking up a 10-year-old shrimp boat captain (Izaac Wang), a toddler con artist and a gruff lonely dude (Benedict Wong). Brian Truitt, Detroit Free Press, "Intense action, warrior women make Disney fantasy ‘Raya’ memorable," 6 Mar. 2021 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

Time Traveler for motley

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about motley

Statistics for motley

Last Updated

11 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Motley.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/motley. Accessed 12 May. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for motley

motley

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of motley

usually disapproving : made up of many different people or things

motley

adjective
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

More from Merriam-Webster on motley

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for 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).

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Star Wars Words Quiz

  • cu jedi training
  • The bounty portion of bounty hunters (such as Boba Fett) comes from a Latin word meaning
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Typeshift

Anagram puzzles meet word search.

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!