0

I'm preparing for the IELTS. So, I'm trying to use high-level vocabulary as much as possible. Consider the following sentences.

In Japan, the most popular sport is baseball.

In Japan, the most prominent sport is baseball.

Do they pretty much mean the same thing, the only difference is the latter is more fancy? If not, could someone provide an alternative word for it?


From the Cambridge Dictionary, prominent

very well known and important

with the meaning, is sounds natural to say

In Japan, baseball is very well known and important.

5
  • prominent - standing out so as to be seen easily; conspicuous; particularly noticeable. popular - Liked or admired by many people or by a particular person or group. They might well both happen to apply to the same thing in many contexts, but the actual meanings are completely different. As is easily established using any online dictionary. Jun 16 '20 at 14:07
  • 1
    You have to be careful because these are spectator sports rather than activities. Course fishing is a more popular sport than football (more people fish than play soccer) but football is more prominent because it is seen by more people. Jun 16 '20 at 14:16
  • There's no doubt coronavirus is far more prominent than boring old norovirus and rhinovirus today. But that certainly hasn't made it any more popular! Jun 16 '20 at 14:34
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Thanks to your reminder, I will be careful when I try to use "popular" to describe something prominent. Thank you! How about the particular situation in my OP? Could or could not I say it that way?
    – Piete3r
    Jun 16 '20 at 14:48
  • If you search Google NGrams for your two alternatives (the most popular sport is / the most prominent sport is), you'll quickly realise that the former if far more common (if you didn't know or suspect that already). Native speakers also know which is more common (except they don't need to do an NGram comparison! :) So if they hear the less common version, they'll assume you must have had some reason for making that choice. For example, maybe in Japan baseball is "high-profile" (on TV a lot), because it's cheap to film. But perhaps most people aren't interested in baseball. Jun 17 '20 at 11:46
0

prominent - standing out so as to be seen easily; conspicuous; particularly noticeable.
popular - Liked or admired by many people or by a particular person or group.

They might well both happen to apply to the same thing in many contexts, but the actual meanings are completely different.

As an example, coarse fishing is a more popular sport than football (more people fish than play soccer) but football is more prominent because it is seen by more people. Or, more topically, there's no doubt coronavirus is far more prominent than boring old norovirus and rhinovirus today. But that certainly hasn't made it any more popular!

In your particular example "popular" would mean the sport that is most liked, or sometimes has the most participants. Prominent would be the sport that is most conspicuous or noticeable.

For example sumo is prominent in many newspapers and on TV, and it is popular as a spectator sport, but very few people actually participate as wrestlers. I would avoid saying "Baseball is the most prominent sport", but you might say how it is prominently featured in newspapers. And I'd want to be clear about whether I meant popular to watch or popular to play (lots of people go to batting ranges or follow a team on TV, far fewer are actually on a team)

0

There are so many ways to look at this, and I had a good think upon it. That's why language is fun.

I agree that 'popular' generally means well-regarded whereas 'prominent' means most conspicuous, or outstanding. That's the take a way. Here are some scenarios. Neither are definitive but just exemplative [Safari is convinced this is not a word, I disagree].

Example #1

Consider a high-school class of 100 people.

There's Amy. Plain Amy. Everyone loves Amy, she's really nice and she'll go out of her way to help you. She's really popular, i.e. of the people[1]. But Amy is just a normal, nice girl, you wouldn't pick her out of the crowd.

Also in the class is Duke Fritzenberg of Moravia. No one even really knows who he is, except that he's a big deal. He comes too school in a very expensive car, dressed in fine linens, and obviously has the power to order rare peacocks for lunch. He is prominent. He stands out. He can do things.

Of course, Amy can do things too. . . Just, not peacocks.

Example #2

Imagine the face, any face, of an actor, for example. This actor has the most beautiful blue eyes, piercingly gorgeous, you can't look away. Everyone adores him for his eyes, they are legendary, and he is very popular. That's evidenced by the fact that he is very high paid actor, perhaps, in part, because his eyes are so popular.

He also has a gigantic mole on his left cheek. The kind of mole that you notice only a split second after his eyes. Without the mole, he would be equally as popular, but when you see him, that mole is nearly on par with his eyes. That mole would be prominent, but also in the context of a popular face.

Example #3

(The issue at hand)

In terms of sports, popularity and prominence are essentially the same by way of the free market. Soccer / Association Football is the most popular sport in the world. By that definition, is is preeminent, or prominent, i.e. the sport with the most coverage across the globe. Put another way, if an alien species were to land on Earth, they would notice a lot of people kicking balls into rectangular boxes. That would be the takeaway.

In the United States, because of the way various sports are structured (in terms of number of games, number of players, television time, salaries), it's harder to decipher. Baseball is, emotionally, part of the American identity. In that way, it's very prominent. Millions of kids grow up swinging a bat or throwing a ball, so it's also very popular. But lots of people all around the world play baseball, and cricket, which is vaguely similar, is likely the second most popular sport. American Football is unique, VERY prominent, and VERY popular. Golf is extremely popular in that many, many people play it (like angling, as per James K), but not popularly watched (also like angling).

In sum

In general, you wanted to find the right word. I think, for your usage, it's 'popular' -- you might use 'prominent' if you wanted to suggest that the sport had a particular force, a particular power, in a culture, perhaps incongruent with its popularity.

That is to say, everyone likes the popular kid, but the prominent kid, though popularly (well) known, controls the situation and bosses everyone around.


[1] In an odd turn, the 'popular' girl in school is usually secretly, or not so secretly, despised. So it's a pretty bad analogy. . . 'Popular' is a tough word. Donald Trump might be called a populist, and though he's is also prominent, he's also not very popular.

1
  • 1
    You start off by saying " 'popular' generally means well-regarded" but I would disagree, 'popular' in this context would almost always mean "most participated in", or some other similar metric, whereas something like the Olympics would be considered far more prominent, but very few people get to take part. Jun 19 '20 at 13:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .