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The place looks unreal, like a gingerbread town. And yet this town is alive - you only need to look around better. Its numerous motley shops and cosy cafes kindly keep their doors open to visitors from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m.

Somehow this combination of numerous and motley seems out of whack, but I cannot pin down why exactly. Is it okay or not, and if not, why?

Is it because motley means "more than one shop", and adding numerous to that will push the meaning towards

Numerous shops, with each shop representing a motley collection of different elements.

With the word "motley" unable to support such meaning?

What would be a good alternative to that? Would this look okay:

Its motley multidute of shops and numerous cosy cafes ...

  • 1
    "Motley multitude of marvelous merchants"? – Dan Getz Dec 4 '14 at 0:01
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    @DanGetz - a most mellifluous monotony, merci! – CowperKettle Dec 4 '14 at 7:13
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Numerous motley shops and cozy cafes

sounds natural and nonjarring to me.

This is because motley does not have to refer to more than one.

A motley shop is one shop. The one shop itself is motley.

mot•ley ( ˈmɒt li ) adj. 1. exhibiting great diversity of elements; heterogeneous.

Numerous motley shops refers to more than one shop that is motley.

Just as numerous cozy shops refers to more than one cafe that is cozy.

Just one example from Google books "motley shops"

In 2007 the magazine you're reading moved its office into former retail space in Carew Tower arcade, just around the corner from TJMaxx and the rest of the motley shops inhabiting Tower Place Mall.

One could insert numerous before motley in the above and not introduce anything close to a jarring element.

And for "motley shop"

From the earliest period in his business career to the day of his death, he kept a shop such as comes within the description of a chandler's shop, in which he sold almost everything, from a mousetrap to a carriage;...At one end of this motley shop, the business of the 'Old Gloucester Bank,' as it was familiarly called, was transacted; and the whole establishment was managed by himself and two clerks or assistants

  • Oops, I changed the spelling from 'cosy' to 'cozy'. Must be the AmE in me. – user6951 Dec 4 '14 at 6:30
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It's kind of a double-hit; perhaps imprecise, but…

from OALD - 'consisting of many different types of people or things that do not seem to belong together'

...so the phrase as it stands implies a collection of shops which don't all fit the same 'shopping centre' [so a fishmonger next to a fashion boutique] but then also, that each of the shops sells oddly-matched items [like a charity shop will sell everything from old coats & trousers to guitars with 2 strings missing, and 8-track cassette players with 2 'free' tapes.]

The overall impression is one of 'pleasant chaos' - no doubt from a travelogue-style piece persuading you it's a good idea to visit.

  • Thank you, Tetsujin! Does "numerous" really combine with "motley", or do these words jar a bit? I guessed it does not combine, but I'd like to hear a native speaker's opinion. – CowperKettle Dec 3 '14 at 19:31
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    I'd go for 'poetic license' as being responsible for the duality. I'm not absolutely certain that was the author's intent, but I infer it was. It is very 'travelogue-style' - enhanced by the fact they grant 'generosity' to the fact the shops are only open half the day ;) [my guess is, half the shops sell hand-made wobbly pots with bad painting, bits of glaze missing & unintentional thumbprints forever etched in the clay too] – Tetsujin Dec 3 '14 at 19:40
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    I forgot to mention that "look around better" really makes me squirm. Swap better to more, or just leave it out altogether [even though that wasn't the question] – Tetsujin Dec 3 '14 at 19:45
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    Sorry - 3rd comment & I'm only just actually answering your question… 'numerous motley shops' is where the dichotomy arises - numerous shops selling motley goods, or a collection of mis-matched shops - which is why I think the phrasing is intentional; it means both. – Tetsujin Dec 3 '14 at 19:49

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