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[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.
Origin of legalism
1830-40; legal + -ism
Related forms
legalist, noun
legalistic, adjective
legalistically, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for legalistic
  • Today courts rarely admit brain scans as evidence at trial for both legalistic and scientific reasons.
  • Many contained legalistic language that muddied the decision-making character of the consent process.
  • Blame the administration--and blame our overly legalistic society.
  • Administrations are what they are in our regulated, legalistic and market-centric environment.
  • Your argument is excessively legalistic and tedious.
  • The direct costs of lawsuits are only one of the drawbacks of an over-legalistic society.
  • There is a legalistic framework in place preventing abuses of trade policy.
  • But there is also a legalistic reason the term has rarely been invoked in the midst of the crisis.
  • Its account of why federalism matters is anything but legalistic.
  • In both cases the explanation was legalistic: narrowly true, but generally false.
British Dictionary definitions for legalistic


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


strict adherence to the law, esp the stressing of the letter of the law rather than its spirit
Derived Forms
legalist, 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
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Word Origin and History for legalistic

1843, from legalist (1640s); see legal + -istic.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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