for·​mal·​ism | \ˈfȯr-mə-ˌli-zəm \

Definition of formalism 

1 : the practice or the doctrine of strict adherence to prescribed or external forms (as in religion or art) also : an instance of this

2 : marked attention to arrangement, style, or artistic means (as in art or literature) usually with corresponding de-emphasis of content

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Other Words from formalism

formalist \ ˈfȯr-​mə-​list \ noun or adjective
formalistic \ ˌfȯr-​mə-​ˈli-​stik \ adjective

Examples of formalism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

From one point of view, quantum physics is just a set of formalisms, a useful tool kit. James Gleick, New York Times, "What Does Quantum Physics Actually Tell Us About the World?," 8 May 2018 Aharonov’s approach is called the two-state-vector formalism (TSVF) of quantum mechanics, and postulates quantum events are in some sense determined by quantum states not just in the past—but also in the future. Philip Ball, Scientific American, "Quantum Physics May Be Even Spookier Than You Think," 21 May 2018 Salterini says contemporary dance is the bringing together the formalism and bravado of ballet, the earthiness of modern dance and the rhythms and syncopation of jazz dance. Diana Dunbar, miamiherald, "Dance Now! Miami: A sense of tranquility and communality | Miami Herald," 17 Apr. 2018 The advance laid the groundwork for the entire formalism of black hole thermodynamics. Adrian Cho, Science | AAAS, "Stephen Hawking, who shined a light on black holes, dies at age 76," 14 Mar. 2018 Notwithstanding such overreaches, this is an impressively rigorous exercise, in which the director's sober formalism finds a kindred spirit in his leading lady's studied, secretive restraint. Guy Lodge,, "'Hannah' review: Charlotte Rampling embodies loneliness of a woman left behind," 22 Feb. 2018 Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard, thinks the way that the subject is taught—with an emphasis on formalism, rather than human dynamics—could be part of the problem. The Economist, "Women and economics," 16 Dec. 2017 That sort of structural formalism is a part of the rote methodology that governs the thought of people who don’t have better ideas. Ben Yagoda, WSJ, "In the Master’s Classroom," 1 Sep. 2017 Recently returned to attention after a long hiatus, Frankenthaler is being hailed not only as a covert naturalist — and, to be sure, a heroine of formalism — but also an unfortunate victim of her era’s implacable misogyny. Nancy Princenthal, New York Times, "Berkshire Tour: Formalism Relaxes, Handcraft Goes Digital," 30 Aug. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'formalism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of formalism

1839, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for formalism

The first known use of formalism was in 1839

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English Language Learners Definition of formalism

: a method, style, way of thinking, etc., that shows very careful attention to traditional forms and rules

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Britannica English: Translation of formalism for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about formalism

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