Learning the language the painful way

by | Aug 27, 2014 | Translators' Column

I have lived in the UK for more than half my life now (and I’m no spring chicken). My English is excellent – or so clients and British people I meet keep telling me. However, occasionally, my “foreignness” still trips me up.

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I arrived at a holiday cottage. The cottage had an alarm system. I had received the following instructions for disarming the alarm: “…on entering the cottage, press the fob on the centre of the alarm unit behind the door”.

I wasn’t quite sure what a “fob” was, but assumed by the description that it was some sort of switch or button on the alarm unit. That didn’t make complete sense to me, though, because what would stop any thief from disarming the alarm in this way?

Still, on entering the cottage I located the alarm unit and, increasingly frantically, pressed various spots on the unit. I tried pressing hard and harder with my thumb. However, after a couple of minutes of fumbling, the screeching alarm went off, making me want to run a mile.


I went in search of my husband to help me solve the puzzle (and to get away from the ear splitting screech). He took one look at the instructions (I was clutching them in my hand), took the bunch of keys off me which I was also holding, picked a grey oval attachment on the ring and pressed it against the alarm unit.

Silence. Heaven.

So that’s what a “fob” is!

If only I’d looked it up in the dictionary… or if only the instructions had been less ambiguous, e. g. “…on entering the cottage, press the grey key fob situated on the bunch of keys against the alarm unit behind the door…” my ears wouldn’t still be ringing painfully at the mere thought of the word “fob”.

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