• synonyms


[fawr-muh-liz-uh m]
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  1. strict adherence to, or observance of, prescribed or traditional forms, as in music, poetry, and art.
  2. Religion. strong attachment to external forms and observances.
  3. Ethics. a doctrine that acts are in themselves right or wrong regardless of consequences.
  4. 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.
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Origin of formalism

First recorded in 1830–40; formal1 + -ism
Related formsfor·mal·ist, noun, adjectivefor·mal·is·tic, adjectivefor·mal·is·ti·cal·ly, adverban·ti·for·mal·ist, noun, adjectivenon·for·mal·ism, nounnon·for·mal·is·tic, adjectiveun·for·mal·is·tic, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for formalist

enforcer, idealist, quibbler, fusspot, purist, trainer, authoritarian, bully, stickler, master, tyrant, despot, teacher, sundowner, sergeant, formalist, fussbudget

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Historical Examples of formalist

British Dictionary definitions for formalist


  1. 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
  2. theatre a stylized mode of production
  3. (in Marxist criticism) excessive concern with artistic technique at the expense of social values, etc
  4. the philosophical theory that a mathematical statement has no meaning but that its symbols, regarded as physical objects, exhibit a structure that has useful applicationsCompare logicism, intuitionism
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Derived Formsformalist, nounformalistic, adjectiveformalistically, 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

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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper