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[fawr-muh-liz-uh m] /ˈfɔr məˌlɪz əm/
strict adherence to, or observance of, prescribed or traditional forms, as in music, poetry, and art.
Religion. strong attachment to external forms and observances.
Ethics. a doctrine that acts are in themselves right or wrong regardless of consequences.
Logic, Mathematics. a doctrine, which evolved from a proposal of David Hilbert, that mathematics, including the logic used in proofs, can be based on the formal manipulation of symbols without regard to their meaning.
Origin of formalism
First recorded in 1830-40; formal1 + -ism
Related forms
formalist, noun, adjective
formalistic, adjective
formalistically, adverb
antiformalist, noun, adjective
nonformalism, noun
nonformalistic, adjective
unformalistic, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for formalist
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • formalist and Hypocrisy choose the easy ways, and are heard of no more.


    James Anthony Froude
  • I am not such a fool or a formalist as you give me credit for being.

    The Marriage of Elinor Margaret Oliphant
  • The duty of a magistrate to be just, precedes that of being a formalist.

    A Philosophical Dictionary, Volume 3 (of 10) Franois-Marie Arouet (AKA Voltaire)
  • The name of the one was formalist, and the name of the next Hypocrisy.

    Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress Samuel Phillips Day
  • The name of one was formalist, and the name of the other was Hypocrisy.

  • Like the misers of every race, he was both devotee and formalist.

    The Incendiary W. A. (William Augustine) Leahy
  • They will not be addressed to the formalist, the hypocrite, the wicked, and the ungodly.

    Practical Religion

    John Charles Ryle
  • As an upholder of the law he becomes a formalist and a reactionary.

    The Man in Court

    Frederic DeWitt Wells
British Dictionary definitions for formalist


scrupulous or excessive adherence to outward form at the expense of inner reality or content
  1. the mathematical or logical structure of a scientific argument as distinguished from its subject matter
  2. the notation, and its structure, in which information is expressed
(theatre) a stylized mode of production
(in Marxist criticism) excessive concern with artistic technique at the expense of social values, etc
the philosophical theory that a mathematical statement has no meaning but that its symbols, regarded as physical objects, exhibit a structure that has useful applications Compare logicism, intuitionism
Derived Forms
formalist, noun
formalistic, adjective
formalistically, adverb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for formalist



1840, "strict adherence to prescribed forms," from formal + -ism. Attested from 1943 in reference to the Russian literary movement (1916-30). Related: Formalist; formalistic.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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