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[fawr-muh-liz-uh m] /ˈfɔr məˌlɪz əm/
strict adherence to, or observance of, prescribed or traditional forms, as in music, poetry, and art.
Religion. strong attachment to external forms and observances.
Ethics. a doctrine that acts are in themselves right or wrong regardless of consequences.
Logic, Mathematics. a doctrine, which evolved from a proposal of David Hilbert, that mathematics, including the logic used in proofs, can be based on the formal manipulation of symbols without regard to their meaning.
Origin of formalism
1830-40; formal1 + -ism
Related forms
formalist, noun, adjective
formalistic, adjective
formalistically, adverb
antiformalist, noun, adjective
nonformalism, noun
nonformalistic, adjective
unformalistic, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for formalism
  • Even in offhanded conversation, he sculpts phrases with the elegant formalism of a master coder.
  • Dogma, rigidly prescribed by tradition, stiffens into formalism.
  • Examines the physics behind the mathematical formalism of the theory of relativity.
  • After a while, you realize that the film is a case of ersatz formalism disguising chaos.
  • The loss-consciousness of these poems changes the meaning of their formalism.
  • Clearly the presentation here is aimed toward goading people into testing their formalism, and to see if it has any utility.
  • But one kind of mathematical formalism, called non-Abelian gauge theory, had not yet been tried.
  • They cannot even be sure that their formalism includes a description of such things as protons and electrons.
  • That's a clear retreat into formalism, not an exploration of logic.
  • And such bad anatomy offers no support one way or the other for theories about literary formalism.
British Dictionary definitions for formalism


scrupulous or excessive adherence to outward form at the expense of inner reality or content
  1. the mathematical or logical structure of a scientific argument as distinguished from its subject matter
  2. the notation, and its structure, in which information is expressed
(theatre) a stylized mode of production
(in Marxist criticism) excessive concern with artistic technique at the expense of social values, etc
the philosophical theory that a mathematical statement has no meaning but that its symbols, regarded as physical objects, exhibit a structure that has useful applications Compare logicism, intuitionism
Derived Forms
formalist, noun
formalistic, adjective
formalistically, adverb
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
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Word Origin and History for formalism

1840, "strict adherence to prescribed forms," from formal + -ism. Attested from 1943 in reference to the Russian literary movement (1916-30). Related: Formalist; formalistic.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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