What is the meaning of following sentence?

He is highly thought of in racing.

When the moderator mentioned his books, saying that they were highly thought of by scholars...

She is highly thought of person.

Festival is highly thought of.

When I looked it up in Cambridge Dictionary, it redirects me to another term "well thought of" ,which means

considered by other people as good; admired, and approved of

On the other hand, Free Dictionary says it means "popular."

Although they are similar words in terms of meaning, I wonder how to use it correctly. Apparently not every dictionary contains a definition for the term so it may be archaic.

I wonder if I can say that it means "renowned" when it is used for people, while it may mean "popular" when it is used for things such as book, a play or song. Unfortunately the word popular does not connote good every time or recently because it may be said popular does not mean it is good quality, on the contrary it may mean the opposite, cheap and shallow.

  • 1
    "Highly thought of" means esteemed, or admired.
    – Mick
    Dec 17 '16 at 20:57
  • Where do you see that "highly thought of" means "popular" in the Free Dictionary? I haven't been able to find that definition, and I would say that "popular" is not really a correct definition.
    – stangdon
    Dec 17 '16 at 21:16
  • @stangdon Thank you for the question. Here is the link legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/highly+thought+of
    – Mrt
    Dec 17 '16 at 21:18
  • 2
    Thanks for the link! Firstly, I would try using a general-purpose dictionary, not the legal one. Secondly, it doesn't say it means "popular", it just says "see popular", which is not exactly a definition. You would do better to look at something like idioms.thefreedictionary.com/think+highly+of
    – stangdon
    Dec 17 '16 at 21:48
  • It's definitely not archaic. The expression is still very much in use.
    – J.R.
    Dec 17 '16 at 22:23

As others have mentioned in the comments, "highly thought of" is a common idiom, which means esteemed or, depending on context, admired.

Although many people thought highly of Picasso and his work, even today many others find him difficult to appreciate.

Despite the fact that Bernie Sanders was a highly thought of candidate, he failed to win the Democratic primary, much less the general election.

It does not mean popular although someone who is highly thought of can also be popular. It simply means that that many people had or have a positive impression of the person.

See also the related idioms "hold in high regard" and "look up to", as well as the synonyms "venerate" and "revere".

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