Posted by Bob on December 16, 2000
In Reply to: Motley Crew posted by Bruce Kahl on December 15, 2000
: : Does anyone know the origin of the phrase, 'motley crew'? We know what it means, but where did it come from and who used it first? Thanks!
: I do not know who used it first but motley is an adjective meaning "speck" from the Middle English mot or mote which in Middle Dutch can mean "sand".
: Sand is composed of diverse and often incongruous elements--hence, the term "motley crew", a phrase maybe describing the employees of a ocean going vessel.
I found a reference from 1748 from something called "Anson's Voyage" which speaks of "with this motley crew, Pizarro set sail." Motley has meant many-colored (like a patchwork) for centuries, and it's the colorful costume of a Fool. Motley (the noun) is cloth of vibrant mismatched colors. Motley (the adjective) borrows from the sense of a fool's costume, and a motley crew suggests a mismatched, raggle-taggle bunch of less than organized troops.