Definitions

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. An overly formal person, especially one who adheres to current forms; a stickler
  • n. An advocate of formalism
  • adj. Of or pertaining to formalism; formalistic

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. One overattentive to forms, or too much confined to them; esp., one who rests in external religious forms, or observes strictly the outward forms of worship, without possessing the life and spirit of religion.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. One who adheres strictly to established custom, form, or usage, as in style, conduct, or procedure; one who is attached to the observance of recognized modes or methods; also, one who has undue regard to forms and rules.
  • n. In philosophy, one who denies the existence of matter and recognizes the existence of form only; an idealist.

Etymologies

formal +‎ -ist (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • It might for someone like me, or like Justice White (both of us are strongly legal realist in our orientation, as you may have guessed) but the point of being a formalist is that if you don't play by the rules, you don't get the result you are seeking.

    Balkinization

  • News at Eleven: Richard Wilbur is regarded, not always to his liking, as a leading "formalist"--"formal" can be found near "formaldehyde" in the dictionary, he jokes--a master of traditional, tempered verse that can seem old-fashioned in more radical times.

    News at Eleven: [Richard] Wilbur is regarded, not always

  • Frankenthaler's works were true to this so-called formalist aesthetic.

    Pushing Past Abstraction

  • Of all people, a formalist will be the last to say otherwise.

    The Volokh Conspiracy » The Conscience of Jack Goldsmith:

  • It wouldn't do, for example, to substitute "formalist" for "legal conservative" here, because that term is too narrow: the late Chief Justice, of course, was a "legal conservative," but whatever one could say about Rehnquist, I don't think that he could honestly be called a formalist.

    "I see myself as a conservative, to tell you the truth."

  • This "close reading" may seem deliberately old-fashioned and "formalist," because it is.

    My Name Was Martha: A Renaissance Woman's Autobiographical Poem

  • Remizov; they were taught (in the very precise sense of the word -- they had regular classes) by Zamyatin; and explained the general principles of Art by the gifted and light-minded young "formalist" critic, Victor Shklovsky.

    Tales of the Wilderness

  • Like the younger composer he also stepped over the mark on occasion and was branded a "formalist" before apologies and conformist material re-established a secure position, though he was never able to fully express himself under these conditions.

    AvaxHome

  • It will also give us real insights into whether there is a working majority on the court for a "formalist" approach to the separation of powers.

    Slate Magazine

  • Often described as the return of content, it can be so named only by someone who thinks that abstract painting is devoid of content or that Edward Weston's "formalist" photos have nothing to say about the landscapes, vegetables, and nudes they picture.

    Chicago Reader

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