Judicial formalism is perceived as fully compliant with the requirements of the rule of law. With its reliance on plain meaning and its reluctance to apply historical, purposive and functional interpretative premises, it seems an ideal tool for constraining discretionary judicial powers and securing the predictability of law’s application, which latter is one of the main tenets of the rule of law. In this paper, I argue that judicial formalism is based on a misguided model of language, and as such cannot deliver what it promises. In fact, judicial decisions based on formalistic reasoning are surprising to their addressees and instead of promoting predictability, they undermine it. A judicial strategy fully compliant with the rule of law requires a different vision of language than that proposed by judicial formalism, and as a consequence, a different, moderately non-formalistic conception of legal interpretation.