Q: What's the difference between "eminent" and "preeminent" in usage? Would a distinguished faculty member be described as an "eminent professor" or a "preeminent professor"?
A: It's a matter of degree. Eminent means that someone or some thing has become distinguished and stands out from the crowd. There may several eminent people in a field. Preeminent means more like peerless, the most eminent of the eminent, the leading authority.
1.high in station, rank, or repute; prominent; distinguished: eminent statesmen.
2.conspicuous, signal, or noteworthy: eminent fairness.
3.lofty; high: eminent peaks.
4.prominent; projecting; protruding: an eminent nose.
eminent above or before others; superior; surpassing: He is preeminent in his profession.
From Yahoo! Answers at http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080205132131AAAEWua