Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Readily taking on varied shapes, forms, or meanings.
  • adj. Exhibiting considerable variety or diversity: "He loved to show off his protean talent” ( William A. Henry III).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Exceedingly variable; readily assuming different shapes or forms.
  • adj. Of or pertaining to Proteus; characteristic of Proteus.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Of or pertaining to Proteus; characteristic of Proteus.
  • adj. Exceedingly variable; readily assuming different shapes or forms.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Pertaining to Proteus, a sea-god of classical mythology, who could change his shape at will; hence, readily assuming different shapes; exceedingly variable.
  • [lowercase] In zoöl, changeable in form; executing movements involving shifting of shape, as an animalcule; amœbiform or amœboid; amœban; of or pertaining to a proteus-animalcule. Also proteiform.
  • n. An actor who plays a number of parts in one piece.
  • n. A salamander of the family Proteidæ; a proteid.
  • In the geology of New York, a name applied by the geologists of the first State Survey to the rocks now termed the Clinton beds of the Silurian system: in allusion to the variable character of the component stratigraphic elements.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. taking on different forms

Etymologies

From Proteus.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Ancient Greek Πρωτεύς (Prōteus), the Greek warden of sea beasts, renowned for his ability to change shape. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The borders of this new world will remain protean, subject to change over time.

    The New World Order

  • "Inordinately protean" is really just a way of saying that a book like Moby-Dick is always worth reading and re-reading, that readers 'experiences of the novel are always going to be productively various.

    Canonical Writers

  • It then simply resolves itself into one of those exceptional instances of what is called a protean form.

    The Antiquity of Man

  • The president is sometimes described as "protean," after Proteus, the powerful Greek mythological sea figure who could change into any shape, including wild beasts.

    So Long, Music Man

  • And that's the kind of protean, brand-spanking-new-for-now category I'd like to live my reading and writing life in.

    Archive 2006-03-01

  • There is one point connected with individual differences, which seems to me extremely perplexing: I refer to those genera which have sometimes been called "protean" or "polymorphic," in which the species present an inordinate amount of variation; and hardly two naturalists can agree which forms to rank as species and which as varieties.

    On the Origin of Species~ Chapter 02 (historical)

  • There is one point connected with individual differences, which seems to me extremely perplexing: I refer to those genera which have sometimes been called 'protean' or 'polymorphic,' in which the species present an inordinate amount of variation; and hardly two naturalists can agree which forms to rank as species and which as varieties.

    On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

  • The experiments also showed that MDA19 had "protean" effects, so-called after the shape-shifting Greek sea god Proteus-under different conditions, it could either block or activate the cannabinoid receptors.

    Newswise: Latest News

  • Could there be some other stage of development in which we express ourselves through a kind of protean self in numerous realities with different levels of faith or suspension of disbelief appropriate to each of them?

    New Scientist - Online News

  • The engineered sheet is effectively a shape-shifting robot - or, looked at another way, a kind of protean 'programmable matter'.

    Scientific American

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Comments

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  • "Notions of sexually satisfying intercourse are remarkably protean, as the extraordinary spectrum of human paraphilias demonstrates, but Djerassi cannot see that his nominal subject includes the reasons why he, and men like him, consider the intravaginal ejaculation is the only satisfactory kind."
    - 'Chemistry and fertility: review of Carl Djerassi', Germaine Greer in Spectator, 1980.

    April 14, 2008

  • November 2, 2007