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!"

  • 1
    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
    Commented 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
    Commented 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. Commented 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
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 20:11
  • The OP has answered their own question: they don't know the term but they have understood the gist of the sentence. Why plough on here?
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 3 at 16:34

3 Answers 3


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
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 20:49
  • Many of the terms on this list can indeed do the job, but I would exclude irrelevant and distraction. The information provided by the peripheral content is relevant to understanding the full meaning of the sentence; it's just not relevant to understanding the gist of it. The information is not distracting to those who understand it.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jan 3 at 16:34

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.

  • OK, it is not irrelevant or superfluous, but what about the other terms in Mr Bonner's answer?
    – jsw29
    Commented Jan 3 at 16:36

I would say the best phrase to describe when a sentence has more difficult words, but can generally still be understood would be "dumbed down"

You can dumb down a description of how something works and also completely describe operation in the same sentence or paragraph.

Examples are often found in owner manuals for modern high technology devices.

  • The concept of dumbing down is, arguably, related to the concept the the question is about, but it is not the same. Note that dumbing down cannot be inserted into the OP's sample sentence. The OP is seeking a word for what is eliminated in the process of dumbing down.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jan 3 at 16:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.