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Motley refers to the traditional costume of the Court jester or the Harlequin character in Commedia dell'arte. The latter wears a patchwork of red, green, and blue diamonds that is still a fashion motif.

The word motley is thought by the Oxford English Dictionary to be cognate with medley, although the unrelated mottled has also contributed to the meaning. The word is most commonly used as an adjective or noun, but is also seen as a verb and adverb.