Definitions

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun 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.
  • noun In philosophy, one who denies the existence of matter and recognizes the existence of form only; an idealist.

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

  • noun 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 Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

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

Etymologies

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

formal +‎ -ist

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

  • 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

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