[ lee-guh-liz-uh m ]
/ ˈli gəˌlɪz əm /


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.

Nearby words

  1. legal tender,
  2. legal weight,
  3. legal-size,
  4. legalese,
  5. legalise,
  6. legalistic,
  7. legality,
  8. legalization,
  9. legalize,
  10. legally

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

Examples from the Web for legalistic

British Dictionary definitions for legalistic


/ (ˌliːɡəˈlɪstɪk) /


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


/ (ˈliːɡəˌlɪzəm) /


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