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[proh-tee-uh n, proh-tee-] /ˈproʊ ti ən, proʊˈti-/
readily assuming different forms or characters; extremely variable.
changeable in shape or form, as an amoeba.
(of an actor or actress) versatile; able to play many kinds of roles.
(initial capital letter) of, relating to, or suggestive of Proteus.
Origin of protean
First recorded in 1590-1600; Prote(us) + -an
Related forms
proteanism, noun
Can be confused
protean, protein. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for protean
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Fabia had dwelt with sorrow day and night until there was no one of its protean shapes which she did not intimately know.

    Roads from Rome Anne C. E. Allinson
  • There is only one Mephistopheles; but he is protean in shape.

  • Her essays and stories 'give proof of a versatility of experience as protean as her talents.'

    Atlantic Narratives Mary Antin
  • The Scottish ballads may scarce be so multitudinous and protean a host as this.

    The Balladists John Geddie
  • I should lack the alchemy by which I now infuse into my world light, colour, and the protean spark.

    The World I Live In Helen Keller
British Dictionary definitions for protean


/prəʊˈtiːən; ˈprəʊtɪən/
readily taking on various shapes or forms; variable
Word Origin
C16: from Proteus
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for protean



1590s, from Greek Proteus, sea god (son of Oceanus and Tethys) who could change his form; his name is literally "first," from protos "first" (see proto-).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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protean in Medicine

protean pro·te·an (prō'tē-ən, prō-tē'-)
Readily taking on varied shapes, forms, or meanings.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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