If you've encountered the word motley, it's most likely in the phrase "motley crew," which means a diverse and poorly organized group. Think of a band of pirates, or the assorted characters who became The Fellowship of the Ring.

In contemporary usage, motley can be used in virtually any context as a synonym for mismatched, heterogeneous, or ragtag. But the word was first used to describe multicolored fabric, especially the type of material used in a jester's costume. This distinctive apparel was a sign of the fool's place outside the class system — and, in the Elizabethan era, it signified that the jester was beyond the sumptuary laws that determined who could wear what. Thus, the fool had the exceptional ability to speak freely, even to royalty.

Definitions of motley
  1. adjective
    consisting of a haphazard assortment of different kinds
    “a motley crew”
    synonyms: assorted, miscellaneous, mixed, sundry
    heterogeneous, heterogenous, hybrid
    consisting of elements that are not of the same kind or nature
  2. adjective
    having sections or patches colored differently and usually brightly
    “a jester dressed in motley
    synonyms: calico, multi-color, multi-colored, multi-colour, multi-coloured, multicolor, multicolored, multicolour, multicoloured, painted, particolored, particoloured, piebald, pied, varicolored, varicoloured
    colored, colorful, coloured
    having color or a certain color; sometimes used in combination
  3. noun
    a collection containing a variety of sorts of things
    synonyms: assortment, medley, miscellanea, miscellany, mixed bag, mixture, potpourri, salmagundi, smorgasbord, variety
    see moresee less
    show 8 types...
    hide 8 types...
    grab bag
    an assortment of miscellaneous items
    witch's brew, witches' brew, witches' broth
    a fearsome mixture
    a variety of different things or activities
    an assortment of things from which a choice can be made
    farrago, gallimaufry, hodgepodge, hotchpotch, melange, mingle-mangle, mishmash, oddments, odds and ends, omnium-gatherum, ragbag
    a motley assortment of things
    alphabet soup
    a confusing assortment
    an assortment of various samples
    a range of frequencies between two limits
    type of:
    accumulation, aggregation, assemblage, collection
    several things grouped together or considered as a whole
  4. noun
    a multicolored woolen fabric woven of mixed threads in 14th to 17th century England
    see moresee less
    type of:
    cloth, fabric, material, textile
    artifact made by weaving or felting or knitting or crocheting natural or synthetic fibers
  5. noun
    a garment made of motley (especially a court jester's costume)
    see moresee less
    type of:
    an article of clothing
  6. verb
    make something more diverse and varied
    synonyms: variegate, vary
    see moresee less
    checker, chequer
    variegate with different colors, shades, or patterns
    type of:
    make (more) diverse
  7. verb
    make motley; color with different colors
Word Family

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 700+
  • Duration: 10 weeks
  • Time: 1 hour / week