from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun Rigorous or excessive adherence to recognized forms, as in religion or art.
  • noun An instance of rigorous or excessive adherence to recognized forms.
  • noun A method of aesthetic analysis that emphasizes structural elements and artistic techniques rather than content, especially in literary works.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun The character of being formal; strict adherence to or observance of prescribed or recognized form, rule, style, etiquette, or the like; excessive attachment to conventional usage, or (especially in religion) to external forms and observances; hence, artificiality or cold stiffness of manner or behavior: as, judicial formalism; formalism in art; the formalism of pedantry or of court life; cold formalism in public worship.
  • noun In philos.: The system which denies the existence of matter and recognizes form only; phenomenal idealism.
  • noun A belief in the sufficiency of formal logic, especially of the traditional syllogistic, for the purposes of human thought.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun The practice or the doctrine of strict adherence to, or dependence on, external forms, esp. in matters of religion.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun Strict adherence to a given form of conduct, practice etc.
  • noun computing One of several alternative computational paradigms for a given theory.
  • noun literature An approach to interpretation and/or evaluation focused on the (usually linguistic) structure of a literary work rather than on the contexts of its origin or reception.
  • noun music The tendency to elevate formal above expressive value in music, as in serialism.
  • noun mathematics, physics A particular mathematical or scientific theory or description of a given state or effect.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun (philosophy) the philosophical theory that formal (logical or mathematical) statements have no meaning but that its symbols (regarded as physical entities) exhibit a form that has useful applications
  • noun the doctrine that formal structure rather than content is what should be represented
  • noun the practice of scrupulous adherence to prescribed or external forms


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From formal +‎ -ism.


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  • But what has been lost in the abandonment of this kind of formalism is any serious attention to the intrinsic value of reading works of literature as opposed to all other "texts."

    The State of Criticism 2008

  • The purpose of mathematical formalism is to cause the writer to not only be logically tight, but also specific enough to avoid arguments over semantics.

    Caldwell, Hayek, and Math, Arnold Kling | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty 2009

  • By the way, on the topic of women in formalism, I am delighted to see that Kevin is reissuing AFFC.

    Numbers Trouble : A.E. Stallings : Harriet the Blog : The Poetry Foundation 2007

  • The fact that these theories seek to extend the formalism is considered as violation of the principle of parsimony by some.

    A Useless Critic 2007

  • This story has been repeated innumerable times, and structures how we think about law and judging today: formalism is naïve, bad, or false; every sensible and candid person is realistic about judging.

    Balkinization 2007

  • Although I am in full support of Gay rights (I dont think marriage should be a state institution in the first place) some degree of judicial formalism is absolutely necessary to mantain balance of powers so I am also in full support of this courts decision.

    Think Progress » New York court nixes gay marriage. 2006

  • Similarly, whether or not legal formalism is metaphysically correct, there are pragmatic arguments in its favor, ably put forth by Prof. Tamanaha.

    Balkinization 2006

  • In this book I am going to explain real-world security using the techniques, processes, and formalism from the computer world, without assuming any computer knowledge.

    Boing Boing: November 10, 2002 - November 16, 2002 Archives 2002

  • These "choke" or "smother" the word; drawing off so much of one's attention, absorbing so much of one's interest, and using up so much of one's time, that only the dregs of these remain for spiritual things, and a fagged, hurried, and heartless formalism is at length all the religion of such persons.

    Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible 1871

  • As to the vocabulary used to render the crematorium, it is true that it recalls the formalism of Meier's work, but to venture calling that kind of formalism racist is strange to me.

    Stories from The Sun 2009


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