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In competition to give away grants, we're asking for a response to a particular question because we always have, but not because we will actually use it to determine the outcome of the competition. I'm trying to explain why we shouldn't do that and I'm looking for the word to describe it. What would be the word to finish this sentence...

"IF we continue to use the [name of evaluation tool], we could leave the [rating factor] in, but it would be… perfunctory? Superfluous? I think we could get across the value of the [policy] without making it a factor in the competition."

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When you're trying to pin down a usage, it's a good idea to be as clear as possible in giving the context. I don't see a way to answer your question, because my only response is, "What competition? Who's asking? What is the 'something' they are asking for? Why are they asking for it if it doesn't matter? Is asking whatever you're asking PART of the competition itself, or a comment on the competition?" (And I could ask even more questions!) Imagine if I said, "Somebody wants to do something to somebody else sometime, somewhere, somehow. What is this called?" Could you answer that question? – John M. Landsberg Apr 3 '13 at 0:22
I agree with what @John says. What kind of competitions? Spelling bees? Rugby matches? Elections? Also, why is this limited to competitions? In other words, what's the difference between asking for something out of habit during a competition, and asking for something out of habit when I, say, go to the barber for a haircut? – J.R. Apr 3 '13 at 0:51
Could be a superstition, like when athletes wear their lucky socks in games that count. – Kit Z. Fox Apr 3 '13 at 12:26
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Ah. The edited version of the question! Now I can answer: The word you are looking for is POINTLESS.

(No, it's not the only possible word - you could use "irrelevant," "useless," "superfluous," or something else - but I think I like "pointless" the best because it seems to be on target for what you're seeking, and has a forcefulness that helps make your point.)

Just for fun, I'll throw in one more word (which we use in medicine), because it specifically means "left over and now useless," and that word is "vestigial." (I'm sure it's too esoteric for your purpose, but it really couldn't be more to the point, I think.)

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I may have answered my own question with "superfluous" but, you're right, the real word I would LIKE to use is "pointless"! I really like vestigial, too. Thanks! – user41722 Apr 5 '13 at 14:46

"Going through the motions" is probably what you are looking for. Competitive runners, for example, who stumble during a race and have no chance of winning will often complete the race. You could say they are just "going through the motions," but maybe they feel finishing the race is important symbolically, or simply good sportsmanship.

To "go through the motions," then, is to put yourself on "autopilot" and do whatever it is you need or want to do. While there may be disadvantages in doing so, especially when your heart is not in it and consequently you do not try very hard, there are also numerous advantages. Not the least of these is not having to learn a complicated routine all over again. Just set yourself on "cruise control" (there's another idiom that describes your phenomenon) and proceed!

When a habit becomes harmful, however, we need to re-evaluate what we are doing and why. Sometimes even experienced drivers, for example, need to take a refresher course in how to drive safely, courteously, and defensively. Likewise, when competitive athletes lose their edge and start letting their form get sloppy or begin to neglect the "basics," they need to step back and remind themselves of why they are doing what they are doing, and pay attention to how they are doing it.

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I have to compliment you on imagining what OP might be saying, and coming up with creative answers! I think I'll upvote your answer just for the quality of the answer itself, even if I have no way of knowing if it actually answers what OP might actually want to know. – John M. Landsberg Apr 3 '13 at 1:18
@John M. Landsberg: If the OP doesn't come back and expand the question within a day or two, I'll either closevote as Not Constructive, or edit his text so it asks the specific question as answered here (and then I'll upvote the answer! :) – FumbleFingers Apr 3 '13 at 4:24
@JohnM.Landsberg: Thank you. The words in the OP's question "doing something just to do it" and "perfunctory" may have set me on the right path, although I'm not certain. When I see a reputation of "1" I tend to give the OP the benefit of the doubt and try to answer the question. Some ELUers refer newbies to a site more appropriate for English learners, and that's OK. Perhaps I can function as a good will ambassador whose job it is to show hospitality to well-meaning seekers. Parting thought: what do you call a person who speaks one language? Answer: an American. – rhetorician Apr 3 '13 at 14:51
Really thoughtful, R. I admire your attitude. And I laughed out loud at your closing joke. It has always left me chagrined and exasperated that most of us typically know nothing of other languages, but it seems the rest of the world speaks at least their own language PLUS English!! – John M. Landsberg Apr 5 '13 at 4:46

Hmm, calling this a tradition, ritual or habit would probably be the most accurate. (Which word you'd use might depend on what you want to emphasize.) However, that might not really help you argue your point, since they don't necessarily have an exclusively negative connotation.

Perfunctory doesn't sound like it quite fits, since it relates more to the how than the why of an action.

When something is done for no reason because other people do it, that's sometimes described via analogy to a cargo cult.

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How about arbitrary

1 based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system: an arbitrary decision

2(of power or a ruling body) unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority: a country under arbitrary government

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What came immediately to my mind was the good old Latin phrase pro forma.

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This answer doesn't explain why this phrase is suitable. – Matt E. Эллен Mar 11 '15 at 8:18

Obligatory, obliged or obligated.

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Please explain your answer in detail. As it stands I strongly disagree that these are suitable words. – Matt E. Эллен Mar 10 '15 at 10:03

protected by tchrist Mar 10 '15 at 5:43

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