The other day, my dad called my friends a motley crew. Is that his way of saying I should hang out with a different crowd?

Perhaps. Then again, he may have been complimenting your taste in such a diverse group of people.

Used as an adjective, motley refers to variation and differences. A "motley crew" of associates would mean that everyone in the group would have his or her own identifying characteristics, skills, interests, and backgrounds — all the better for the group overall, because what some within the collection didn't know or couldn't do, at least one member would be able to figure out.

When used as a noun, motley refers to a cloth of mixed colors, the kind often worn by clowns or jesters.

Edgar Allan Poe was fond of the word motley, as you can see by these passages in several of his short stories:

  • From "William Wilson": "They formed a motley and heterogeneous admixture . . ."
  • Within the pages of "The Purloined Letter": " . . . any word, in short, upon the motley and perplexed surface of the chart."
  • And, in describing the varied mixture that made up the jester-like appearance of unfortunate Fortunato in "The Cask of the Amontillado": "The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells."