Sample sentence:

This is an important set piece in the story as Kynes begins to admire Duke Leto, against all better judgment.

I don't know the specific meaning of the phrase "set piece", though it seems to be a phrase that might easily have context-specific meaning. But my lack of understanding doesn't stop me understanding (or making a reasonably accurate guess at) the gist of the sentence: this (the aforementioned topic) is important in the story....

Is there a single word that describes such a notion?

My search of the English Stack Exchange generated these close matches, which are not the same as my question:

  1. What is the word for "Unnecessary detailed information"?
    My question is not about words or phrases that are unnecessary detail: in my sample sentence, the phase "set piece" will likely convey meaningful information to a reader who understands the word.
  2. What's the word for Unnecessary Complexity
    My question is not about words or phrases that add unnecessary complexity: in my sample sentence, "set piece" does not, and is not intended to add "complexity" to the sentence: it's a phrase that I think adds meaningful information to a reader who understands it, but it does not seem like it is used to intentionally obfuscate or jargonize the sentence as a whole.

Other hits were less and decreasingly relevant.

How the word would be used:

If the word I was looking for is foo, then I might use it in a sentence like so:

Even though I don't understand what "thneed" means, the word is just (a) foo, so I was able to understand the gist of the sentence "I was over the moon because I just got the thneed I'd been waiting for all year long!"

  • Unfortunately, the context does not provide much help with the meaning of set piece and I don't think the gist of your sentence can be grasped without it. In fact, the sentence tells you that it is important. IMO it warrants looking up rather than skipping over. You can make a case that set piece is the crux of the sentence, not unnecessary detail. // The adjective you are looking for may be unessential.
    – DjinTonic
    Oct 27, 2021 at 19:28
  • @DjinTonic - True: the example sentence does not itself include enough information to help with the meaning of "set piece", but I just want to point out how interesting (in a nice way) that two people can read the same sentence and digest it so differently. :) You come away feeling that "set piece" is the crux of the sentence, while I come away feeling that it is unessential. I think that "unessential" might indeed be a pretty good word, but I'll leave this question open in case someone comes up with a more altiloquent word english.stackexchange.com/a/484285/437273 :)
    – StoneThrow
    Oct 27, 2021 at 19:57
  • Just to set the record straight—the working definition of "set piece" is a scene or sequence of scenes whose execution requires complex logistical planning and considerable expenditure of money? In that case, I'm not so sure that it isn't ancillary to the rest of the sentence, which is about character dyanmics. Oct 27, 2021 at 20:01
  • @AndyBonner I wasn't even aware that set piece had that specific meaning in film, which differs from its dictionary meaning in other arts, e.g. opera. So the OP may be correct after all regarding the gist! However, reading the review, I'm not sure in which sense it is intended (set piece occurs twice in the review). Wiki disambiguation seems to ignore the dictionary definition!
    – DjinTonic
    Oct 27, 2021 at 20:11

2 Answers 2


You've cast the example as a noun, but there are some adjectives that do the job nicely. Some can function as noun or adjective:

  • peripheral (n or adj)
  • incidental (n or adj
  • irrelevance (n)
  • ancillary (adj)
  • inessential (adj)
  • inconsequential (adj)
  • secondary (adj)
  • expendable (adj)
  • distraction (n)

A few words that are not what you're looking for, but are close:

  • placeholder (Implies that the word has no intrinsic significance)
  • fluff (negative connotation implying that the word is better omitted)
  • MacGuffin (staying with the cinematic theme, a thing that is given more significance by the context than by its intrinsic qualities)
  • I'm gravitating strongly to "ancillary" being the word I want. The google-rendered definition for both noun and adjective include the phrase "necessary support to the primary ...", whose inclusion of "necessary" I would quibble with, both within and without the context of this question. The Merriam-Webster definition, though, does not use the word "necessary" and emphasizes the notion that "ancillary" is supplemental, which implies the ability to do without, which aligns well with this question.
    – StoneThrow
    Oct 27, 2021 at 20:49

Almost all vocabulary—for a native speaker—is learned, or inferred, from context. The fact that you can understand a sentence including a word you’ve never heard before does not imply that the word is irrelevant, superfluous, or any other near-synonym you may find in a thesaurus.


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