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What is a word or expression I could use to describe something that has a less-than-fifty percent chance of happening, but is still likelier than any other single outcome?

"The most likely outcome" is good, but ideally I'd like something more specific; i.e., which telegraphs the idea that the outcome in question is still <50% likely.

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  • Look up "plurality." I think that will do it for you.
    – Xanne
    Jan 11, 2018 at 8:18
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    @Xanne ? It doesn't...
    – SAH
    Jan 11, 2018 at 16:24
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    I don't think there's a word that expresses that something is the most likely of all the possibilities, but not very likely by itself.
    – Barmar
    Jan 14, 2018 at 8:21
  • I get a little tired of questions about words that do not exist and that call for the addition of an adjective or phrase: "a 50% chance of some outcome"
    – Lambie
    Jan 21, 2018 at 15:34
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    You very nearly got there yourself - "the single most likely outcome".
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 23, 2018 at 22:34

2 Answers 2

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The word I think you're looking for is probability, and the easiest way to describe the phenomenon you've written about (the highest, or most distinct probability) is with a pie chart.

prob·a·bil·i·ty /ˌpräbəˈbilədē/ noun

the extent to which something is probable; the likelihood of something happening or being the case.

"the rain will make the probability of their arrival even greater"

synonyms: likelihood, prospect, expectation, chance, chances, odds

"the probability of winning"

a probable or the most probable event.

plural noun: probabilities

"for a time, revolution was a strong probability"

synonyms: probable event, prospect, possibility, good/fair/reasonable bet

"relegation is a distinct probability this season"

MATHEMATICS

the extent to which an event is likely to occur, measured by the ratio of the favorable cases to the whole number of cases possible. "the area under the curve represents probability"

Source: Google Dictionary https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/licensing/google

The admininstrators of this site do not however acknowledge Google Dictionary as a citable Oxford Dictionary despite the above link.

Should you be interested in the inferior nullified accepted online definition which includes the word "probable" in the definition it is as follows.

Probability

NOUN (Plural Probabilities)

[mass noun]

  1. The quality or state of being probable; the extent to which something is likely to happen or be the case.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/probability

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    Please link to the entry of this word in Oxford Dictionaries Online. Google Dictionary is hearsay.
    – tchrist
    Jan 21, 2018 at 2:50
  • @tchrist It would appear that in this case both definitions of the word are lacking as they include the root in the definition. Why lexogrophers let that happen I'll never know. No wonder there is confusion regarding usage. It is also clear that in this case the source of the Google Dictionary definition is not ODO as the texts of the definitions differ. As always, thank you for your time.
    – Jesse Ivy
    Jan 21, 2018 at 15:37
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"The plurality of the likelihood," the title of your question, really makes no sense. Likelihood is, as Jesse Ivy's answer conveys, a synonym for probability, which isn't related to plurality.

A Dictionary of American-English Usage (my copy is copyrighted 1957)(based on Fowler's Modern English Usage), has this to say about plurality:

With three-cornered contests as common as they now are, there are occasions for a convenient single word for what the English now call an absolute majority, i.e., a majority comprising more than half of the votes case. In US the word majority itself has that meaning, while a poll greater than that of any other candidate, but less than half the votes cast, is a plurality.

One could reasonably say, for example, "With five good candidates in the race, the probability of a majority is low"--i.e., it is unlikely that any candidate will get 50 percent or more.

You could also estimate that a candidate is likely to win "only by a plurality."

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    Thank you for your support, I agree that the wording in the title is a bit strange but I think that's part of the problem is that it just doesn't sound right. That's an interesting entry for plurality, I'd not seen that form of its definition before. Good to know. Sounds like a nice dictionary, my own desk reference is The Winston Simplified Dictionary, which bares no copyright but the inscription inside the cover was written to my grandmother for Christmas, 1938. It is a great book filled with a bunch of lovely words which have in large part fallen out of modern usage.
    – Jesse Ivy
    Jan 21, 2018 at 16:02

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