Friday, August 3, 2012


protean [ˈproʊtiən] a.

1.) Of or pertaining to Proteus; like that of Proteus; hence, taking or existing in various shapes, variable in form; characterized by variability or variation; variously manifested or expressed; changing, varying.
2.) Zoology. Varying in shape; of or pertaining to the proteus-animalcule; amœboid, amœbiform, proteiform.
3.) Of a theatrical performer: characterized by the ability to take several parts in the same piece; quick-change; also, in transferred sense: of such a performance. Originally U.S.
4.) Of animal behaviour: unpredictable, following no obvious pattern (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: from Latin Prōteus, adoption of Greek Πρωτεύς: a sea-god, the son of Oceanus and Tethys, fabled to assume various shapes.

"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, Charles Darwin, 1859).

(Aristée et Protée, Sébastien Slodtz, 1714)


Debra She Who Seeks said...

I always thought I knew what this word meant. Turns out I didn't! Thanks for the info!

D4 said...

Well, I'm glad it doesn't sound like protein or else I'd never use it. Another word to sound like a snob with though.

A Beer for the Shower said...

A great word I would never hear in every day conversation, unless you count the backwards hillbilly at my gym who pronounces 'protein' in this manner. He's the same kind of guy that seems to think 'athlete' is 3 syllables (ath-a-leet).

Meri said...

I like the scientifically based ones because I can "figure them out" instead of memorizing them.

DEZMOND said...

wish me was protean with the first meaning in mind :)

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