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The question comes from a popular ancient legend from "In Search of the Supernatural" (搜神記, 4 century CE) about a person asking for his lifespan extension.

Here's the whole of it:

管輅至平原,見顏超貌主夭亡。顏父乃求輅延命。輅曰:「子歸,覓清酒鹿脯一斤,卯日,刈麥地南大桑樹下,有二人圍位,次但酌酒置脯,飲盡更斟,以盡為度。若問汝,汝但拜之,勿言。必合有人救汝。」顏依言而往,果見二人圍碁,頻置脯,斟酒于前。其人貪戲,但飲酒食脯。不顧數巡,北邊坐者忽見顏在,叱曰:「何故在此?」顏惟拜之。南面坐者語曰:「適來飲他酒脯,寧無情乎?」北坐者曰:「文書已定。」南坐者曰:「借文書看之。」見超壽止可十九歲,乃取筆挑上語曰:「救汝至九十年活。」顏拜而回。管語顏曰:「大助子,且喜得增壽。北邊坐人是北斗,南邊坐人是南斗。南斗注生,北斗主死。凡人受胎,皆從南斗過北斗;所有祈求,皆向北斗。」

The point of interest is this piece:

見超壽止可十九歲,乃取筆挑上語曰:「救汝至九十年活。」

The Southern Dipper God did something (挑上) to "十九" turning it into "九十". I was wondering what exactly it was and the only satisfactory commentary I've found stated that he put a certain mark or nitpick (挑) above (上) the characters, signifying the character order reversal.

Since then I was trying to find any further reference to this orthographical practice and find out how that mark could look like. Any leads?

2 Answers 2

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i think that “挑上” is a specialised term in taoism, describing an action in writing charm paper (劃符)

上清天心正法

使眞炁吹之・發筆挑上・鬼字寫在内

靈寶無量度人上經大法

止念其玉諱爲呪・不計其數・次以一筆挑上・蓋其形・呪曰

上清靈寳大法

又念四字・毎一字四轉塗之・共一十六轉・剔筆上出・次以一筆挑上・蓋之・呪曰

so, the verse in 搜神記

乃取筆挑上・語曰・救汝至九十年活

read it as, the southern dipper deity took a pen, made a remark, and promised a life of 90 years, verbally

further, the northern dipper deity was the in-charge of death, that the southern dipper deity need his counterpart’s help, to finish the formalities in the office 😸

have fun :)

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I remember it is called a Reverse order marking (逆序標記), "挑上" describes the action of "drawing a pen stroke" (on a surface)

This indicates 十九 is changed to 九十

enter image description here

Reverse order marking and insert word marking

enter image description here

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