[lee-guh-liz-uh m]


strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit.
  1. the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.
  2. the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.
(initial capital letter) (in Chinese philosophy) the principles and practices of a school of political theorists advocating strict legal control over all activities, a system of rewards and punishments uniform for all classes, and an absolute monarchy.

Origin of legalism

First recorded in 1830–40; legal + -ism
Related formsle·gal·ist, nounle·gal·is·tic, adjectivele·gal·is·ti·cal·ly, adverb Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

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British Dictionary definitions for legalistic



of, relating to, or exhibiting strict adherence to the law, esp to the letter of the law rather than its spirit
Derived Formslegalistically, adverb



strict adherence to the law, esp the stressing of the letter of the law rather than its spirit
Derived Formslegalist, noun, adjective
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 legalistic

1843, from legalist (1640s); see legal + -istic.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper