English Ex­plained

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Austria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.