The Manuscript: Mistakes and Unsolved Mysteries
This is the ‘Manuscript’, the little slip of paper that obsessed me to the degree that I ended up writing my book The Babel Message about it:
This little slip of paper found inside Kinder Surprise Eggs, giving warning Messages in multiple languages, is discussed extensively in the book. More specifically, I focus on the version of the Manuscript with the serial number 79013029, which was published in 2020 (other versions can be found in The Codex).
Ferrero, the company that makes Kinder Surprise Eggs, declined to participate in my project (although they were not hostile to it) which meant that I had to work hard to understand the Manuscript in all its complexity. In the chapters of my book I decode some of the mysteries of the Manuscript – and the Appendix gives an even more detailed tour. Yet some mysteries remain…
On this page I have compiled a list of mistakes that I have found in the Manuscript, together the mysteries I have not been able to solve. This list should be read in conjunction with the book – particularly the Appendix. It contains additional information not found in the book but also repeats some – although not all – of the questions I raised in it. Feel free to contact me if you spot a further mistake, if you can solve a mystery or to suggest a new one. I will update the page accordingly.
Oh, and while I don’t want to get anyone into trouble and have no quarrel with Ferrero – if you work for the company or worked for them in the past and can help clear up some of these mysteries, do get in touch. I’d be happy to speak privately and, if necessary, will undertake to keep information to myself. I know it sounds like this project is a joke, but my interest in the Manuscript is, believe it or not, all too real…
The Azerbaijani mystery (or is it a mistake?)
This is how the Azerbaijani Message has usually appeared on most Manuscripts:
«Xəbərdarliq, oxuyun və əməl edin: kiçik hissələri nəfəs vaqida orqanlara düşəbilər»
However, look closely at Manuscript 79013029 and versions subsequent to that and you will notice something odd:
What appears to have happened is that the ‘ə’ has been elided with the following letters in the words ‘hissələri’, ‘nəfəs’ and ‘düşəbilər’ to form what is known as a ‘ligature’. Ligatures are found in some alphabets, such as the Danish ‘æ’. But I have seen no evidence that this ligature exists in Azerbaijani or even that there is a plan to introduce it to the language. If this is a mistake though, it’s an odd one: You couldn’t even produce this mistake using any standard character set. Further, there doesn’t seem to be a spacing issue that would require the letters to be squashed together – as you can see, the final line contains only one word. Note also that there is an unnecessary space between the final letter and the closed parenthesis.
The Estonian enigma
This is how the Estonian Message looks in close-up:
There are two major problems here:
1) The word ‘voivad’ includes what appears to be a diacritic bisecting the left hand side of the ‘o’. The problem is that no such diacritic exists either in Estonian or in any other language. As with Azerbaijani (see above), this isn’t an easy mistake to make using a standard character set. It’s also been reproduced over multiple versions of the Manuscript.
2) The straight lines over some of the ‘o’s are what’s known as macrons, found in a number of languages, including Latvian – they are not used in Estonian. Rather, Estonian uses a ’tilde’ over some instances of the letter o – ‘õ’. This error is hard to spot as the Message is printed so small, but it is still a major one. Indeed, on one instance – in the words ‘voi’ and ‘onnetuse’ the mistake is compounded by siting the macron slightly askew to the left over the ‘o’.
Estonian speakers have confirmed these errors to me and this is what the Estonian Message should look like:
TÄHELEPANU! LOE LÄBI JA HOIA ALLES: need võivad sattuda lastele suhu või hingamisteedesse ja põhjustada õnnetuse.
An Estonian-speaking correspondent also reflects:
…the Estonian text really doesn’t make much sense. The Estonian word “need” means “these”, but the text never elaborates what “these” are. Obviously a bright reader will realise that it probably refers to the toys, but the toys are actually never mentioned in this text. As is noted with the Greek, the age limit is also not mentioned here – the text reads “ATTENTION! READ THIS AND KEEP IT: these may end up in children’s mouths or airways and cause an accident.” The word “sattuda”, which I translated as “end up”, has a strong implication of happenstance and accidentality; I couldn’t come up with a better equivalent in English right now.
The font problem (in Hebrew, 'p' and 'f' are the same letter so technically this is alliterative)
In the book I speculate on the font used in the Manuscript (or, possibly, fonts). I posted on a couple of websites that identify fonts and there was some suggestion that the Manuscript font was Helvetica, or something similar. Other suggests have included Univers or Franklin. It could, of course, be a proprietary font developed by Ferrero. Anyway, I’d love to know!
While it is likely that one font dominates the Manuscript, there do seem to be subtle differences in the fonts used in particular Messages as well as multiple inconsistences in point size and spacing. Take, for example, side one column two:
There are several things to note here:
- The Azerbaijani Message might well be in a different font to Czech, Danish and German. The Azerbaijani ‘a’ lacks a serif (the small stroke in the bottom right hand corner of the letter).
- The red section of the Greek Message appears to not be in bold, where the other Message red sections are all in bold.
- The Danish and Azerbaijani Message letters are bunched up much closer to each other than the other Message letters are.
- All this is in addition to the differences in wording and punctuation discussed in the book.
I have not, I confess, done a complete inventory of all the differences between Messages other than what appears in the Appendix to the book. But we can certainly say that there are multiple differences (both small and large) in the typography of the Messages. This is hard to account for – it certainly makes no sense from a design point of view – but one theory I have is that the Manuscript is compiled by simply copying and pasting into the page from Messages sent in by local Ferrero branches or commissioned from translators.
The Greek...erm there's nothing in the thesaurus entry for 'mystery' that begins with 'G'. Sorry, can't alliterate.
I once showed the Manuscript to a Greek-speaker who worked in the copy shop that produced the high-res scan of the Manuscript that appears in the book. He insisted that there was an error here. Unfortunately, I was in a hurry and didn’t note down what the mistake was. Here is the Greek Message:
ΠΡΟΣΟΧΗ: να διαβάσετε και να φυλάξετε. Περιέχει μικρά κομματια που μπορεί υα καταπιούν η να εισπνεύσουν
Heather Quirk, a Greek-speaking friend of mine, suggested an alternative translation of the Greek Message from the English:
ΠΡΟΣΟΧΗ! Διαβάστε και διατηρήστε: Δεν είναι κατάλληλο για παιδιά κάτω των 3 (τριών) ετών. Περιέχει μικρά κομμάτια τα οποία μπορεί να εισπνεύσει ή καταπιεί ένα παιδί με κίνδυνο να πνιγεί.
Heather also noted the following:
The translation that I gave you was more formal and contained all the elements from the English – the one in the egg is more informal (for example using που which means that instead of τα οποία which means which) and simpler. The Egg also uses a subjunctive form of the command, which is still a command but has a “should” feeling as well – in other words Διαβάστε και διατηρήστε means Read and keep, and in the Kinder Egg instructions, it says να διαβάσετε και να φυλάξετε which is also a command, but the να is also an indicator of suggestion…you should read this and keep it. It has the same meaning but is more gentle, I would say. I think that the final part, about the small parts, the Kinder egg translation is literal and exact – following the English. The translation I sent includes the implied and is what someone would say, but it is not appropriate for an insert – the language has to be simple and straightforward to make sure that everyone can easily understand it (one would think!)What is interesting is that the “Toy not suitable for children under 3 years” is not in the official translation, which you mentioned. I am sure that you would not get a reason for this. My interpretation would be that if it says for kids under 3 and a kid who is four swallows a part, then the parent cannot take action, right? So this means that the company is more protected by these instructions since the warning is for everyone. Also, in Greek, παιδί – child – is used forever for kids (not as kids but as child – even though it can be translated as both). Is this missing from other translations? I don’t see 3 in many of them!
ΠΡΟΣΟΧΗ: διαβάστε και φυλάξτε. Παιχνίδι ακατάλληλο για παιδιά κάτω των 3 χρόνων. Περιέχει μικρά κομμάτια που μπορεί να καταπιούν ή να εισπνεύσουν.
The inscrutable ISO codes
In the Appendix I point out more detail the inconsistency in how two-letter codes are assigned to individual Messages. The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has a set of agreed
codes for language (ISO 639) and for countries (ISO 3166). Most Messages are prefixed with ISO 639 codes – except for Chinese, Arabic and Persian. While the Armenian Message is assigned the correct code, the Armenian product information is given the code ‘AR’ which signifies Arabic in ISO 639 and Argentina in ISO 3166. The product information for Russia/Kazakhstan/Belarus is marked by the country codes, even though it appears in both Russian and Kazakh.
So, why the inconsistencies? I have no answer to that…
The Korean conundrum
Hanna, the sharp-eyed proofreader who worked on the book, checked all of the Messages on Google Translate for transcription errors. She pointed out that Google Translate suggests that the first part of the Korean Message (which it translates as ‘Warning, read carefully and keep’) should read ‘경고, 잘 읽고 보관하세요’ and not ‘경고, 잘 읽고 보관하시요’ – ie the penultimate character should be ‘세’, rather than ‘시’. I checked the original and it does appear that it was transcribed correctly (I paid for someone to transcribe this one rather than do it myself) so this spelling has been kept in the book. But is there really an error in the original?
The mindboggling missing languages and the frustrating foils
As I point out in the book, Russian, Ukrainian, Kazakh and Kyrgyz are only included in the Manuscript for product information. In the past, Russian, Ukrainian and Kazakh were included on the Manuscript. So why were they taken off? And why do these countries (plus Armenia and Belarus) have separate product information while the other countries do not?
The situation becomes even more confusing when we consider the relationship between the Messages that appears on the foil wrapper and the Messages that appear on the Manuscript. In the book I didn’t mention the foil that much but the basic point is that the foil includes fewer Messages than the Manuscript does. For example, the eggs sold in Romania feature foil Messages in Romanian and Bulgarian. Interestingly, as my researches on two eggs bought in Russia have shown, foil Messages may be included in languages that have never been included in the Manuscript, such as Uzbek and Kyrgyz – and there may be other examples like this.
Foil Messages may also have slightly different wordings to Manuscript Messages. For instance, the UK foil Message is:
WARNING. TOY INSIDE. SMALL PARTS, ADULT SUPERVISION RECOMMENDED
From what I can tell from my researches, the ‘adult supervision recommended’ line never appears in the Manuscript but appears in foil Messages in multiple languages. Why the inconsistency? Might there be a legal difference between a foil Message and a Manuscript Message, with the foil one having a higher importance as it is more immediately visible? Then again, the foil Message does not contain the instruction to ‘keep’ the Message, since the foil is too delicate to be preserved.
The big question, I guess, is whether there is some guiding strategy on the part of Ferrero. Is the complex relationship between foil and Manuscript the product of a carefully-constructed strategy? Is their a guiding logic behind the decision to include or exclude languages inside or outside the egg?
The punctuation puzzler
In the book I point out that there is considerable variation as to how different Messages on the Manuscript are punctuated. I won’t repeat the examples I give in the book here. But this is another tantalising manifestation of the wider mystery behind the construction of the Manuscript and its Messages: What is the guiding logic? How far are variations in punctuation the product of linguistic requirements or stylistic choices?
The serial sixty-four-thousand-dollar-question
As we know from the Codex, Manuscripts are numbered sequentially, with 79013029 being the one I focus on in the book. While there appear to be gaps in which a number is missing, it is unclear whether this is a result of a missing item in the Codex’s collection, or whether there is some meaning to it. Further, the logic behind the number is still elusive. There doesn’t seem to have been a number 1 and there is no evidence that over 79,013,029 have ever existed. Rather, there seem to have been sequences, marked by the first few numbers: The Codex lists the 403, 6050, 6055, 6120, 7508, 7900 and 7901 sequences (the Manuscript in the book appears to be the first in the 7901 sequence). What is the meaning of the decision to start a new sequence? And, given that only the 6055 sequence appears to start from the beginning (with 60550001) what is the logic behind the start number in each sequence?
There is a further question: The serial number is accompanied by another code consisting of the letters and three numbers. In the case of the Manuscript in the book, it is LEC 006. In 79013090 for example, it is LECM 008. I have absolutely no idea what these codes mean and how (or whether) they are connected to the serial number. Perhaps a reference to a standard of some kind? If so, I haven’t managed to find what this is a reference to.
The thrilling mystery of the number three and other peculiarities
In The Babel Message I explain how the wording of each Message varies and in the Appendix I summarise all the different variants. The most important question is why some Messages specify a three year old age limit and some do not. The logic behind this is unclear to me.
Can you solve any of these mysteries? Or have you found other mistakes and mysteries in the Manuscript? If so, contact me