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 sea-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 The Sun is dying and a bomb the size of Manhattan is all that can save it in this thrill ride from protean filmmaker Danny Boyle. Randall Colburn,, 16 May 2022 When a protean hermeneutic rules, confusion inevitably results. WSJ, 12 May 2022 Making decisions about what is or isn’t safe in a protean pandemic is a mental workout, essentially asking your brain to do burpees in a funhouse of distorted logic. Lila Thulin, Smithsonian Magazine, 10 May 2022 English is a big, big language — a sprawling, protean language — adopting and assimilating words and phrases from all over the world. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 21 Apr. 2022 This month, de Lucchi revisits the dining table and chair for Stellar Works, a furniture maker that shares his protean outlook. WSJ, 25 Apr. 2022 Over the last several decades, Schnabel has taken his protean creativity into a wide variety of forums and mediums, including architecture and interior design, real estate development, furniture, and most notably film. Tom Teicholz, Forbes, 24 Apr. 2022 English, that blessed, flexible, protean language, accommodates both. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 30 Mar. 2022 Chris Burden’s death in 2015, at only 69, ended one of the most protean and captivating art careers of the past half-century. New York Times, 28 Feb. 2022 See More

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

22 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Protean.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for protean


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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