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Protean vs protein

Protean and protein are two words that are often confused. We will examine the difference in meaning between the words protean and protein, where these words came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Protean describes something that is versatile, something that changes easily or frequently. The word protean is derived from the Greek god, Proteus. Proteus, also known as the Old Man of the Sea, was subject to Poseidon. Proteus’ job was to herd seals. He was known for his ability to shapeshift and to tell differing stories. However, according to mythology, if one could capture Proteus with no chance of escape, he would assume his true form and prophesy for his captor.


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A protein is an organic compound made up of amino acids. Protein composes the structure of many bodily tissues and is a nutrient that animals need in order to live. Meat is a major source of protein, as are legumes, eggs and dairy products. The word protein is derived from the French word protéine, coined in the early 1800s. The root word is the Greek prōteios, which means primary.

Examples

The film is protean, leaving no edges or handholds for the audience to cling to as it flows between genres. (The Heights)

While the fear over the specific lineage of American whites has faded—Nell Painter’s “The History of White People” points to exactly how protean the category of “white” has been over time—the over-all sentiment is enjoying a new vogue in an era in which we are practically counting the days until people of color become a numerical majority in the United States. (The New Yorker)

While it’s totally doable to get enough protein per day from food alone, early wakeup calls, travel, and lunchtime meetings may stand between you and your ideal eating routine. (Men’s Journal)

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