protean

adjective
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 Derwin James returns as his brilliant protean self. Nick Canepa Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: Chargers have four areas of need, but need to avoid reaching at No. 13 in draft," 24 Apr. 2021 In the meantime, less protean Democrats are making the affirmative case. The Editors, National Review, "Democrats’ Court-Packing Two-Step," 16 Apr. 2021 Sweeney’s effectiveness as a novelist stems from her protean sympathy, her ability to move among these characters and capture each one’s feelings without judgment. Washington Post, "‘Good Company,’ Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s follow-up to ‘The Nest,’ is a sweeter novel with higher stakes," 30 Mar. 2021 Julia Iredale’s illustrations of artifacts (shown above), with museum-like captions, add to the immediacy of this protean story set 2,500 years ago. Meghan Cox Gurdon, WSJ, "Children’s Books: Defenestrating Dr. Seuss," 5 Mar. 2021 But thinking of Covid-19 as just a respiratory infection belies its protean nature. Andrew Joseph @drewqjoseph, STAT, "The coronavirus at 1: A year into the pandemic, what scientists know about how it spreads, infects, and sickens," 14 Dec. 2020 Hawke’s protean energy was a kind of antidote to the anxiety of abandonment. John Lahr, The New Yorker, "The Many Faces of Ethan Hawke," 14 Sep. 2020 Less than sixty days out from the election, Trump, unburdened by official campaign themes or facts, seems to be chasing a surprisingly large and protean coalition. Benjamin Wallace-wells, The New Yorker, "How Trump Could Win," 11 Sep. 2020 In other words: Sketch comedy players require an almost uncanny protean flexibility that goes beyond simply making people laugh for a living. Robyn Bahr, The Hollywood Reporter, "Why the Emmys Needs a Separate Category for Sketch Comedy Performers," 14 Aug. 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

28 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Protean.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/protean. Accessed 9 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for protean

protean

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of protean

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

protean

adjective
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

protean

noun
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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