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

adj consisting of a haphazard assortment of different kinds

“a motley crew”
assorted, miscellaneous, mixed, sundry
heterogeneous, heterogenous
consisting of elements that are not of the same kind or nature

adj having sections or patches colored differently and usually brightly

“a jester dressed in motley
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

n a collection containing a variety of sorts of things

assortment, miscellanea, miscellany, mixed bag, mixture, potpourri, salmagundi, smorgasbord, variety
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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

n a multicolored woolen fabric woven of mixed threads in 14th to 17th century England

Type of:
cloth, fabric, material, textile
artifact made by weaving or felting or knitting or crocheting natural or synthetic fibers

n a garment made of motley (especially a court jester's costume)

Type of:
an article of clothing

v make something more diverse and varied

variegate, vary
checker, chequer
variegate with different colors, shades, or patterns
Type of:
make (more) diverse

v make motley; color with different colors

Type of:
color, color in, colorise, colorize, colour, colour in, colourise, colourize
add color to

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