Our columnist is very aware of what his bosses wear — or are wearing. To him, it’s not just a question of style but also of language.
Chad Smith on tenses and The Devil Wears Prada
When I was an intern reporter for the New York Daily News in 2008, I had a pretty difficult boss. On the first day of work, he asked me how quickly I could write a 400-word story. When I replied “in a couple hours,” he told me I had better learn to write faster because “You only get one hour here.” On my second day of work, he saw me eating a sandwich and deadpanned, “Interns don’t eat lunch.”
My professors in journalism school had warned me about such bosses. They said that sometimes newspaper editors haze young reporters to see how much pressure they can handle. And, of course, this was New York City — a place with a media market that is so cutthroat, Hollywood has portrayed it dozens of times.
One fairly well-known film that tried to capture the rigors of the New York media landscape and the difficulties some bosses present was The Devil Wears Prada, released in 2006. It’s about a young woman, Andrea, who begins a job as an assistant at a Manhattan fashion magazine. She dreams of one day becoming a successful journalist. However, on her first day of work, she learns that she’s going to have a difficult road ahead of her. Andrea’s boss, Miranda Priestly, is a tyrant. She ridicules Andrea and forces her to complete humiliating tasks.
The movie resonated with the public so much that nowadays, saying that your relationship with your boss is like The Devil Wears Prada has become shorthand for saying that your boss is awful and making your life in the office intolerable. Recently, I watched the film again and, instead of focusing on Andrea’s relationship with Miranda, this time, I found myself thinking about the movie’s title. See, I was watching the movie with my girlfriend, who is German. At one point, she turned to me and asked, “Why is the movie called The Devil Wears Prada and not The Devil Is Wearing Prada?” Great question, I have to say.
The present continuous is used to talk about actions that are happening at the moment of speaking. “But she is wearing Prada, right now,” my girlfriend argued, pointing at the TV screen. True, of course. However, the emphasis is not on what the “devil” — Miranda Priestly — is wearing right now, but on the fact that she wears expensive designer clothing to the office every day. It’s a habit, a rule, something you can rely on even if everything else goes out the window. And the correct tense to emphasize this aspect is the present simple, not the present continuous.
As for that boss of mine, he turned out to be a good guy. After that internship, he gave me a great recommendation to an editor from another newspaper, helping me secure my first full-time job in journalism. He doesn’t wear Prada, you see.
Originally from New York City, Chad Smith is a freelance journalist and English teacher who now lives in Hamburg.