The Languages of Kinder Surprise.

Bathrobe sent me this article by the splendidly bearded Keith Kahn-Harris about the multilingual messages on the warning message slip found inside Kinder Surprise eggs:

As someone who adores languages I don’t understand, for a long time I have been obsessed with this small sheet of paper—an obsession culminating in the publication of my new book The Babel Message: A Love Letter to Language. At first, I saw the warning message sheet as a feast of linguistic diversity. It includes 34 languages, everything from Albanian to Azerbaijani, in multiple scripts. There are “small” languages, like Estonian (spoken by about a million people) and massive ones, like Chinese and English.

I was intrigued, but disappointed to find that the piece contained only his Deep Thoughts and no actual examples. Happily, a little googling turned up The Message: An ever-expanding list of translations:

On this page, I have collated the translations and versions of what I call in The Babel Message, ‘The Message’ – the warning message found on the piece of paper found inside Kinder Surprise Eggs.

Below you can find the complete list of translations of the Message, including both the ‘Official’ versions found inside the Kinder Surprise Eggs and the ones commissioned for The Babel Message. The book does not include every Message I have found or commissioned so there is plenty of exclusive material here that you won’t find elsewhere, including alternate translations. In some cases, I have included supplementary explanations and translation glosses that were too lengthy to fit into the book.

Which is fun. The one thing that’s missing is a quiz, but fortunately there is an equivalent that I reported on in 2004 in The Languages of McDonalds. And not only can you still take the quiz (I had the same problem I had eighteen years ago with the Scandinavian languages, though when the language you guess is close enough to the real one the quiz gives you a do-over, which is sporting), but in one of the comments J. Cassian said “I remember a similar multi-linguistic warning I found in a Kinder egg once.” It’s all connected. (Thanks, Bathrobe!)


  1. January First-of-May says

    That sort of multilingual warning was probably one of my first introductions to the variety of languages (maybe not the first one, admittedly). I remember, as a teenager, looking over the texts and comparing the different languages to check which words look similar, and wondering what the differences mean. I never wondered what it would be like in languages that weren’t listed, but it does sound like an interesting concept.

    It wasn’t only the Kinder Surprise messages, but the alternatives are probably a lot less attested. (I have no idea what happened to our copy of the huge multilingual text I mentioned at the link; I cannot imagine knowingly throwing it away, but even if we saved it, our apartment is such a ridiculous mess that we have trouble finding things even when we look for them.)


    And not only can you still take the quiz

    …There’s an interestingly rendered sentence in the preface: “Indeed, even those that are mostly have a lot of extra diacritical marks – not just letters like �, �, �, �, �, and � which most internet browsers will show correctly, but also weirder cases like ą, ē, č, ğ, ľ, ń, ş, and even ů.” None of the first six example letters render for me (though all eight of the second bunch do), and if they don’t render in the quiz either, this might be somewhat of a problem. (I hadn’t actually checked yet.)

    [EDIT 2: at least for me they in fact do not.]

  2. Yes, that’s mildly annoying, but they don’t cause a problem in the quiz itself.

  3. The problem with the � on the quiz web page is an encoding error. The document itself is storing the characters in ISO-8859-1, as is declared in some HTML tags. But the HTTP headers say it’s UTF-8. This kind of problem was much more common back in 2005.

  4. The funny character is the Unicode REPLACEMENT CHARACTER, U+FFFD, and it’s that way in the source of Whyte’s original web page. At some point all the originals got replaced with this placeholder.

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    Sometimes multilingual warnings are more likely to be encountered. It is or has been a cynical truism of American life that bilingual English/Spanish signage is most common when the content is prohibitory (NO SMOKING or NO TRESPASSING or DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE etc.). But the first parallel multilingual texts I have a specific recollection of puzzling over as a child were ingredient lists on boxes of breakfast cereal. When we lived in Tokyo (starting when I was 8 years old), you couldn’t really obtain American breakfast cereal locally, but a specialist gaijin-centric grocery store my mother found out about had some European analogues which gave ingredient lists in, IDK, English/French/Dutch and probably another language or two (German? Italian?). This was back when the EU was still the EEC so there was probably less regulation of which multilingual combinations a particular manufacturer could choose.

  6. David Marjanović says

    That’s not regulated; it simply depends on where the stuff is meant to be sold. The baking chocolate I’m eating right now* has ingredients lists in German (“AT”), Italian (“IT”), Hungarian (“HU”) and Slovene (“SI”) – with top-level domains in ellipses so they look like the national car stickers, but those are A, I, H, SLO.

    What’s regulated EU-wide is that the halfway common allergens go in boldface and italics:

    Emulgator: Lecithine[**] (aus Soja)
    emulsionante (lecitine di soia)
    emulgeálószer (szójalecitin)
    emulgator (sojin lecitin)

    * A basic food group for me. It’s good stuff, with no other fats than cocoa butter, but comes from a basic supermarket.
    ** No idea what happened there; normally it’s Lecithin, a syllable shorter. Judging from the other languages it’s not a plural.

  7. This was back when the EU was still the EEC so there was probably less regulation of which multilingual combinations a particular manufacturer could choose.
    Even now, there is wide variation in which languages you’ll find on products. It’s certainly not the case that information on articles sold in the EU has to be in all EU languages. It all depends on the selection of countries a certain batch of products will be delivered to. On products sold in Germany, I have seen all kinds if combinations, from monolingual German (mostly stuff sold and produced locally, like packaged rye bread in bakeries) to dozens of languages. Most frequent are 4-6 languages, which almost always include English. Out of the official EU languages, l only rarely see Maltese and Irish on products sold in Germany.
    OTOH, you also frequently get Turkish, Ukrainian, and Russian (not EU languages) due to them being languages of important export markets and, at least for Turkish and Russian, languages spoken by a large number of people in Germany

  8. David Marjanović says

    Languages on the instruction for the Corona PCR test I took this morning so my sisters can visit tomorrow (Vienna appears to be the envy of the world for how easy test kits are to get): German, English, Spanish, Slovene, Slovak, Hungarian, Romanian, Turkish.

    I’m surprised FYLOSC isn’t represented. Maybe someone figured Slovene was close enough? It’s not as close as Czech is to Slovak…

    Labeled on the last page (and nowhere else) with an inconsistent mixture of TLDs and car-sticker abbreviations; German is “D” (the car-sticker symbol for Germany even though the company is based in Vienna), English is “GB”, Hungarian is “RU”, Spanish is “ES”, and I think the others are all car-sticker symbols; “SLO” definitely is.

  9. Trond Engen says

    I was got a packet of Corona self-tests at the municipal test station when my wife was quarantined last week. It’s labeled in four car-sticker languages: ES, PT, EL, and NO. An unusual combination, but it probably makes sense for the German distributor.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    My apologies to the busybody bureaucrats in Brussels for imagining they were by now more intrusive in this particular area than apparently they have yet gotten around to being. I do imagine that the cereal boxes I was looking at in Tokyo circa 1974 were of Benelux origin, since I am quite sure Dutch was one of the languages and who else would bother (if not doing a literal every-single-EU-language listing – although I guess in those days there weren’t all that many such non-English languages even when membership jumped up from 6 countries to 9)?

  11. A lot of European multilingual things include Arabic. Is it to accommodate immigrants, or exports?

  12. David Marjanović says

    More likely exports.

  13. Hungarian is “RU”

    How the hell does that work? It seems willfully perverse.

  14. J.W. Brewer says


    Possibility 1: RU is short for “Rungary,” which is how “Hungary” is standardly pronounced in the Scooby-Doo variety of AmEng.

    Possibility 2: “RU” was a typo for “HU.”

  15. Possibility 3: from the Old Hungarian name of Hungary, “Magyaruruszág”? … yeah I’m stretching.

  16. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I am quite sure Dutch was one of the languages and who else would bother

    Anyone who wanted to sell their stuff in Belgium would bother. When we were first in France it was very common for such information to be just in French and Dutch, plus, sometimes, English. Never German, Italian, Spanish etc.

  17. Thanks for posting about my book. It would be remiss of me if I didn’t shamelessly plug it on the comment thread. Here is the publisher’s page on the book – it includes buy links for various territories –

    BTW: I didn’t know about the MacDonald’s quiz! Glad to see that someone else was thinking on the same lines as me years ago. I may well put a quiz on my own website.

  18. Please do!

  19. The letters that don’t show up in the McDonald’s quiz are annoying, but they could be more of a problem. From my point of view, it’s the less exotic letters, for example ä, that have gone missing, while more exotic letters show up fine.

    If it’s any consolation, I couldn’t distinguish Danish and Norwegian either. I’m googling the differences right now…

  20. David Marjanović says

    Possibility 2: “RU” was a typo for “HU.”

    Given the keyboard layout it can’t have been a typo in the strict sense, so I must have been thinking of something else – but yes, it’s HU.

    But hey, I’m apparently learning Old Hungarian in the process!

  21. My first experience of this sort of thing came as a child in the 50s. Terro ant poison came in bottles in a cardboard box with instructions in the American immigrant languages of ca. 1920.

  22. Lars Mathiesen says

    I remember seeing Dutch for the first time on a box of O’boy cocoa drink powder WIWBAL. (Wonder of wonders, the brand has not been absorbed by Nestlé the Borg yet. Mondelez got them first. [I was actually living a few km from Marabou’s headquarters when they got bought]). Anyway, my father told me that knowing English, French and Danish would enable me to read Dutch as well.

    (“Zucker, Kristallzucker, hart entfettetes Kakaopulver, Lecithin, …” is still stuck in my head from a similar box out of Lidl vel sim. So basically the stuff in cocoa you can’t use for chocolate, with so much sugar that even splitting it in two won’t move it down the list).

    Carrying chocolate to Holland…

  23. Lars Mathiesen says

    less exotic letters — as DM said, there was an encoding mismatch. The less exotic letters were single bytes in ISO-8859-1 that transcoded into error characters, but anything outside that was probably coded as HTML entities (like &‌#945; = α) that survived better.

    (There is a roundtripping problem in the submission box here, you have to be tricky to get a literal & in front of something that looks like it could be an HTML entity. It probably does the transformation twice — “&‌amp;&‌zwnj;#945;” works).

  24. January First-of-May says

    Testing: α as in α might work.

  25. January First-of-May says

    Nope, it doesn’t, but for unrelated reasons: # doesn’t convert to anything. What’s the correct HTML code for the # character?

    EDIT: turns out it’s # – and using that does in fact work, as seen in this very sentence.

  26. Trond Engen says

    I tried the MacDonalds test. For some reason the Scandinavian languages were easy (even if the Norwegian translation was characteristically unidiomatic), I missed formidably on the Slavic languages. I think I missed at least once on each and every one except Russian and Polish. I also mistook Latvian for Lithuanian, which I shouldn’t if I had looked closer, and Catalan for Spanish, which is just embarrasing.

  27. David Marjanović says

    hart entfettetes Kakaopulver

    I’ve never seen that, and it would be a rare metaphor; was it stark entfettet, or indeed stark entölt?

    as DM said, there was an encoding mismatch.

    Wasn’t me.

  28. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I screwed up completely with Icelandic, in part my fault, as I forgot that there was another Scandinavian language after I had failed with Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, and in part their fault, because they replaced ð and þ with junk. With those it would have been easy.

  29. January First-of-May says

    I think I got Latvian/Lithuanian correctly, but I completely mixed up the Scandinavian languages (I guessed Norwegian and then Danish for the Swedish text, and then confused Danish and Norwegian as well, but I don’t recall in which order), as well as the Iberian languages (guessing Spanish for both Catalan and Portuguese, rather embarrassingly in the latter case).

    I got all the Slavic languages right but seemingly mostly by luck. I also almost guessed Luxembourgish for Catalan, but at the last moment remembered that Luxembourgish is a Germanic language and not a Romance one.

    and in part their fault, because they replaced ð and þ with junk

    They described what a ð looks like well enough that I could (correctly) guess Icelandic just from that alone.

  30. J.W. Brewer says

    It may be worth further exploring Dr. Kahn-Harris’ varied oeuvre. On his Amazon author page it says “I’ve written books on denial, heavy metal, antisemitism, Jews and, most recently, on the multilingual warning messages inside Kinder Surprise Eggs. Yes, really.”

    Further exploration on his personal website uncovers claims that he has also written (perhaps not at book length?) on further topics including: (a) Small worlds and small communities (particularly the Luxembourg water-skiing scene); (b) The British overseas territories and crown dependencies (Gibraltar and Alderney in particular); (c) Military ration collectors; and (d) Soft drinks.

    I am now curious as to whether the title of his extreme-metal-themed doctoral dissertation (“Transgression and Mundanity”) is intended via its initials to evoke or allude to the classic 1973 album title TYRANNY AND MVTATION.

  31. Lars Mathiesen says

    Wasn’t me — no it was Y. And stark may well have mutated to hart in my memory, stærkt/hårdt affedtet are equally cromulent in Danish. It probably means washed in kerosene and separated with lime, or whatever it is they do to the dregs of olive pressings to get the last Euro out.

  32. The McDonalds quiz was great. I like the fact they threw in a few languages that weren’t actually used, just to make it harder. In the end i got 2 wrong. But that’s because of the sausage finger effect.

    For me the hardest was telling danish & norwegian apart.

    Tried to read the Kinder Surprise article, but pop-ups about cookies & other such rubbish stopped me from reading more than just a couple of paragraphs.


  33. Sorry about that; I use an ad blocker, so I don’t notice such things.

  34. It seems there are too many υ’s where ν’s should have been:

    υα διαβάσετε και υα φυλάξετε. Περιέχει μικρά κομματια (=ά) που μπορεί υα καταπιούυ η υα ειοπνεύσουν (=σ).

  35. игрушку не предназначена

  36. I thought I’d provide the Sumerian version by Professor Mark Geller in case ə de vivre had any comments:

    𒃌 𒋃 𒁀 𒂊 𒂃 𒁀 𒂊 𒍝 𒈾 𒂊𒇽 𒌉 𒉈 𒊏 𒉡 𒌒 𒌌 𒃻 𒌉 𒁉 𒉆 𒁀 𒁕 𒀊 𒅥𒍣 𒉆 𒁀 𒁕 𒀊 𒉺 𒉘

    galga šid-ba-e du8-ba-e za-na-e lú tur-ne-ra nu-ub-du7 níg tur nam-ba-da-ab-gu7 zi nam-ba-da-ab-pa-ág

  37. If only this message had been translated 4000 years ago, Sumer would not have reached its sad end, as its children choked on candy.

  38. ə de vivre says

    I thought I was going crazy I hadn’t already commented here. It turns out there’s another Kinder Surprise Message thread where I did in fact comment on Professor Geller’s message. I also give a few revisions of my own translation there.

    I’m still not 100% satisfied with either of our translations of that last line. The combination of epistemic modality and passive voice is tricky.

  39. Ah, of course! I too thought you had discussed the Sumerian; little did I know there were two Kinder Surprise threads.

  40. That’s the surprise 🙂

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