What was Saito doing?

I found the book Saito’s Monograph on Prepositions (Tokyo: The S. E. G. Press, 1932) in the back corner of a second hand book shop near the National Art Museum of China, where they put all the foreign language books. You see a lot of recent cheap editions of classics, airport reads, as well as a fair few hints at very different times — Russian language guides to opera from the early 50s, for example. Even as a linguist, it still looked like a candidate for the most boring read on the planet to me. I had to buy it.

I paid 120元 (about $17 US). It was old, it was hardback, it was in decent shape.

The book is literally a 1310-page discussion of the different facets of prepositions or preposition combinations in the English language. 

You may think “in, at, on” are very simple words. Saito would very much like to disagree. As a linguist working from a second language (Japanese), he understood and documented the many very different ways these common words are used. 

For example, his discussion of the preposition “at” shows the many ways we use it naturally:

Oil-paintings show to better advantage at a distance. (location)
The gun is fired at noon. (time)

And there are so, so many more ways we use this preposition. I know this, and believe me, it is fully thanks to Saito.

For each different way to use a preposition, he offered a model sentence to demonstrate what he was explaining. What I have done here is to collect and curate all of these model sentences, together, in order. I am not a co-author, but a collaborator. When the model sentences are grouped together, minus the lengthy linguistic discussion, they form their own semi-surreal discourse. It’s a different way to encounter the language he was exploring.

I hope you enjoy “At” as a good use of language, and I hope you create interesting connections between the many images presented in the sentences. The images connect: feel free to create your own reading.


People point at his shabby clothes.
I aimed at the bird and fired.
The angry bull ran at me.
A drowning man will catch at a straw.
One man pulls the vehicle, and the other pulls at the rope.
I was twelve when we arrived at Shimbashi station.
There is someone at the door.
There is a temple at the summit of the mountain.
In at one ear, out at the other.
Oil-paintings show to better advantage at a distance.
The gun is fired at noon.
I was a mere child at the time, and soon forgot my sorrow.
Do not attend to two things at one time.
His old passion would revive at times.
I was disappointed at every turn.
He left home at an age when other boys are still tied to their mother’s apron-strings.
The moon shines at night.
I have been at a funeral.
I always find him at his books.
I have been working at this problem all day.
He is a good hand at all sorts of games.
Japan and Russia are now at war.
Japan and China are now at peace.
You may go or stay at your pleasure.
At daybreak the storm was at its height.
Life is, at best, very short.
If you do it at all, do it well.
The earth moves at a rate of 68,130 miles an hour.
You cannot dissuade me; I will go at all hazards.
I have been at a great deal of trouble and expense on his account.
The goods are valued at 10,000 yen.
I wonder at his audacity.
At this he grew very angry.
They fell in love at first sight.
The visitor addressed the whole school at the request of the principal.

— David Harrison Horton is a Beijing-based writer, artist, editor and curator. His book Maze Poems is forthcoming from Arteidiola Press. He edits the poetry zine SAGINAW. davidharrisonhorton.com

— Hidesaburo Saito (1866-1929) was a Japanese linguist who did extensive research on the English language. The sentences from these works are taken from the model sentences appearing in his 1310-page tome Saito’s Monograph on Prepositions (Tokyo, The S. E. G. Press, 1932).

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