for·​mal·​ism | \ ˈfȯr-mə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce formalism (audio) \

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 How to pronounce formalism (audio) \ noun or adjective
formalistic \ ˌfȯr-​mə-​ˈli-​stik How to pronounce formalism (audio) \ adjective

Examples of formalism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web But a reader may thrill to the formalism of Alexander Pope on Monday and revel in the informality of Allen Ginsberg on Tuesday, engaging with the criticism that attaches itself to each. James Campbell, WSJ, "Deconstruction, Identity and the Dying Art of Criticism," 19 Mar. 2021 Democracy may have been reduced to a crude civic formalism, but many are still fighting for a democratic life. Blair Mcclendon, The New Republic, "The Presidency Is a Bad Job," 19 Jan. 2021 That rigorous musical formalism ceded territory to sub–MAD magazine satirical broadsides. John Semley, The New Republic, "How Weird Was Frank Zappa?," 26 Nov. 2020 My neighbor’s gardener, favoring a greater formalism, allied himself with André Le Nôtre, the genius of Versailles. Kieran Dodds; Text By Peter Ross, Smithsonian Magazine, "How Hedges Became the Unofficial Emblem of Great Britain," 22 Oct. 2020 Several experts agreed that real numbers don’t seem to be physically real, and that physicists need a new formalism that doesn’t rely on them. Quanta Magazine, "Does Time Really Flow? New Clues Come From a Century-Old Approach to Math.," 7 Apr. 2020 The Supreme Court of the United States performs its duties with a theatrical formalism. Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, "Is the Supreme Court’s Fate in Elena Kagan’s Hands?," 11 Nov. 2019 There’s no assumption about how that happens: how the quantum formalism must be used to predict the probabilities of the outcomes. Quanta Magazine, "Mysterious Quantum Rule Reconstructed From Scratch," 13 Feb. 2019 Despite all its formalism, math is not meant to have sacred texts that only the priests can read. Quanta Magazine, "With Category Theory, Mathematics Escapes From Equality," 10 Oct. 2019

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

Time Traveler

The first known use of formalism was in 1839

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Last Updated

27 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Formalism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for formalism



English Language Learners Definition of formalism

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

More from Merriam-Webster on formalism

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

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