Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adjective Readily taking on varied shapes, forms, or meanings.
  • adjective Exhibiting considerable variety or diversity.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • 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.
  • noun An actor who plays a number of parts in one piece.
  • noun 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 the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

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

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

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

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

  • adjective taking on different forms

Etymologies

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

[From Proteus.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Ancient Greek Πρωτεύς (Prōteus), the Greek warden of sea beasts, renowned for his ability to change shape.

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

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

    Laird Hunt on "Nonrealist Fiction"

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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. (2nd edition)

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