pro·​te·​an | \ ˈprō-tē-ən How to pronounce protean (audio) , prō-ˈtē- \

Definition of protean

1 : of or resembling Proteus in having a varied nature or ability to assume different forms
2 : displaying great diversity or variety : versatile

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Did You Know?

Proteus was the original master of disguise. According to Greek mythology, the grizzled old shepherd of Poseidon's sea creatures possessed the gift of prophecy but didn't like to share his knowledge. Proteus would escape those who wanted to question him by changing his shape. The only way to get a straight answer from him was to sneak up behind him during his midday nap and hold onto him (while he frantically changed from shape to shape) until he eventually revealed what he knew. The adjective "protean" describes anyone or anything that is as mutable and adaptable as the mythological shepherd.

Examples of protean in a Sentence

a protean actor who is equally comfortable with light comedy and serious drama
Recent Examples on the Web More than in other bands with a similar method, the drummer falls right into the flow: Far from serving as a steady shoreline against which those waves can crash, Podgurski can roll and fold along with them, protean and unsettled as ever. Jon Pareles, New York Times, "The Rolling Stones Still Miss You, and 13 More New Songs," 24 Apr. 2020 Adopting a protean state of mind, according to modern career theorists, could help guide career management efforts in such uncertain times. Tomoko Yokoi, Quartz at Work, "There’s never been a better time to build a “protean career”," 30 Mar. 2020 The guy is nothing if not unpredictable and protean. David Segal, New York Times, "‘Better Call Saul’ Season 5, Episode 6 Recap: A Modest Proposal," 23 Mar. 2020 Perhaps that’s because giraffes live in what researchers suspect are protean societies lacking the cohesiveness of elephant herds or lion prides. Ed Yong, The Atlantic, "The Last Giraffes on Earth," 13 Mar. 2020 Theater, the most protean of art forms, and one of the oldest, has an especially complex genome. New York Times, "What Happens When We Lose the Art That Brings Us Together?," 20 Mar. 2020 Truly, America’s protean black musical mother lode has found expression in popular genres of its own invention—not string quartets, symphonies and operas. Joseph Horowitz, WSJ, "A Symphony to Link Africa and America," 7 Feb. 2020 In typical Kingdom Hearts fashion, the narrative justification for this is both transparent as a means to rewrite old material and entirely consistent and natural as a direction for the game's protean lore. Julie Muncy, Wired, "Kingdom Hearts III Re: Mind Is the Antidote to Bad Endings," 29 Jan. 2020 But not even the protean De Niro can reverse the relentless march of time. Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times, "Robert De Niro said no green screen. No face dots. How ‘The Irishman’s’ de-aging changes Hollywood," 2 Jan. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'protean.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of protean

1594, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of protean was in 1594

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Last Updated

13 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Protean.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for protean


How to pronounce protean (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of protean

literary + formal : able to change into many different forms or able to do many different things


pro·​te·​an | \ ˈprōt-ē-ən, prō-ˈtē- How to pronounce protean (audio) \

Medical Definition of protean

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: displaying great diversity or variety a disease with protean clinical manifestations


pro·​te·​an | \ ˈprōt-ē-ən How to pronounce protean (audio) \

Medical Definition of protean (Entry 2 of 2)

: any of various insoluble primary protein derivatives that result from a slight modification of the protein molecule especially by the action of water, very dilute acids, or enzymes

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