The following fact about Prisoner of Azkaban movie is fairly popular (even listed on the film's IMDB Trivia page):

The symbols under Sirius Black's picture on the Wanted Poster translate as "more or less human."

However, googling for the phrase doesn't seem to show any actual sources, just various tumblers and twitters.

What's the source of this fact?

enter image description here

Close up of sign


5 Answers 5


Perhaps the original source of the alleged translation is the IMDB. If I'm not mistaken, isn't IMDB similar to, but not a duplicate of, the Wikipedia, in that it accepts user info submissions? Just a thought.

I looked this up in both Harry Potter: Film Wizardry by Brian Sibley and Harry Potter: From Page to Screen by Bob McCabe, both definitive books on the Harry Potter movies (seriously, they are huge and incredibly detailed in both images and information.). Neither mentioned the phrase More or less human, at least not that I could find (I'm relatively competent when it comes to finding Potter info.). Anyhow, the McCabe book says: Director Alfonso Cuarón suggested the Azkaban tattoos, which represent a variety of alchemic and runic symbols. See pics below (Also, a close-up of Sirius's Azkaban numbers and info, as someone requested it.).

Have you seen this wizard? Sirius Black!

Some pre-production character sketches.

Smile for your mugshot! :D

Here's why I think, though, that this saying -- More or less human -- could be totally valid. I looked up Alchemy on the Wikipedia and found an interesting passage:

Both the transmutation of common metals into gold and the universal panacea symbolized evolution from an imperfect, diseased, corruptible, and ephemeral state toward a perfect, healthy, incorruptible, and everlasting state, so the Philosopher's Stone then represented a mystic key that would make this evolution possible.

In texts that are written according to this view, the cryptic alchemical symbols, diagrams, and textual imagery of late alchemical works typically contain multiple layers of meanings, allegories, and references to other equally cryptic works; and must be laboriously decoded to discover their true meaning.
Wikipedia - Alchemy

While a sentence to Azkaban is certainly not the same as taking the Elixir of Life, if you look sideways and squint hard, you might see a commonality between the goals of the Elixir of Life and a prison sentence. Ostensibly, the man or woman who is sentenced to prison is imperfect and corrupt; the goal is their redemption, to atone for crimes and sin, to make restitution to those harmed (And this doesn't necessary mean an individual; it can refer to a community.). It's about, in theory, seeing a prisoner reach a state of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is a process, a journey.

The Philosopher's Stone at one time represented a mystic key that unlocked a similar journey, as previously mentioned: the journey from both the transmutation of common metals into gold and the universal panacea symbolized evolution from an imperfect, diseased, corruptible, and ephemeral state toward a perfect, healthy, incorruptible, and everlasting state.

So while an Azkaban prison sentence is about both punishment and breaking a wizard down so thoroughly that he/she may be rehabilitated once he/she has sunk as is as low as humanly possible. Like Fawkes -- all phoenixes, really -- the prisoner has to claw his/her way out of the proverbial as The Philosopher's Stone symbolizes a similar kind of change. This is where I see the connection between alchemic tattoos and, as a prisoner embarks on his/her journey of rehabilitation, there might come a time and a place where that prisoner is "more or less human".

Also, prison tattoos often represent a prisoner's life journey -- they tell life stories. Perhaps the tattoos represent Sirius's story. And prison tattoos are certainly intricate and cryptic, with certain tattoos having very strong and deep meaning.

Finally, I wonder if the source of the saying *More or less human" simply refers to Sirius's status as an Animagus.

  • Where did tattoos come into this?
    – Martha
    Dec 4, 2014 at 15:42
  • Yes, IMDB is like Wikia, user-submitted data. Dec 4, 2014 at 16:46
  • 3
    +2 for the research in the first half of the answer. -1 for totally IMHO irrelevant discourse on Alchemy and tattoos. Dec 4, 2014 at 16:49
  • @DVK - If the source is the IMDB and it's user-edited, then I would consider it non-canonical. I included the info re: alchemy and tattoos because I parsed your question incorrectly. I thought that "What is the source of this fact" was referring to the "More or less human" , meaning I thought you were asking what the historical source of "More or less human" is. Hence my discourse. I'm surprised you presented an unsubstantiated quote from the IMDB as a "fact" when the purpose of the question was to establish whether the quote is fact to begin with. I notice I'm not the only one pontificating. Dec 5, 2014 at 3:33
  • @Martha - See my comment to DVK re: tattoos et al. Dec 5, 2014 at 3:33

A quick Google search leads me to a few different-but-similar transliterations of the runes1, 2. However, for consistency, I'll go with what I can find on Wikipedia3.

The top line of Black's placard is clearly (using Elder Futhark names for the symbols) "(gebo)(algiz)390". The bottom left-hand side appears to have one character obscured, but the remainder is "C.L097SG43". The bottom right-hand side has at least one character obscured, but the remainder is "(pertho)(algiz)(gebo)(ansuz)07(algiz)(gebo)46(dagaz)(yr)2", although the (dagaz) might be (ehwaz) or (mannaz). Note that (yr) is (algiz) inverted.

These two runic sequences transliterate to the following:

GZ390 or

PZGA07ZG46DR2 or
PZGA07ZG46ER2 or
PZGA07ZG46MR2 or
PZGO07ZG46DR2 or
PZGO07ZG46ER2 or
PZGO07ZG46MR2 or
PZGÆ07ZG46DR2 or
PZGÆ07ZG46ER2 or
PZGÆ07ZG46MR2 or
PXGA07XG46DR2 or
PXGA07XG46ER2 or
PXGA07XG46MR2 or
PXGO07XG46DR2 or
PXGO07XG46ER2 or
PXGO07XG46MR2 or
PXGÆ07XG46DR2 or
PXGÆ07XG46ER2 or

It is worth noting that in addition to being used as letters, the runes can be used for symbolic meaning, generally in runic magic. However, that would make the upper section mean, roughly "Gift elk 390" and the bottom right section mean "Pear-tree elk gift Æsir 07 elk gift 46 day yew 2" (with "day" possibly being "horse" or "man" instead). I can't imagine what sort of divination you could get from that, but I'm no runomancer.

In short, I doubt whoever was responsible for creating the placard intended for it to be actually translated, despite using real runes.

  • I even tried Hungarian runes, but (1) it's still nonsense (É eZS eB eG 07 eZS eB 46 U ? 2 eG), and (2) Hungarian runes don't have anything that looks like the Yr rune.
    – Martha
    Dec 4, 2014 at 16:49

The bottom line is, the source of this "fact" is somebody's twisted imagination, and it's not actually true.

  • Nobody at Azkaban knew that Sirius was an Animagus, so they had no reason to cryptically refer to it.

  • In any case, that's not the sort of thing you put on a prisoner's mugshot. Usually, the prisoner will hold up a sign with the booking date, perhaps their name, perhaps the location/prison name, and then some sort of identification number. Based on the fact that Sirius' placard has a mixture of letters, runes, and numbers, it's clearly intended as the latter: an identification number.

  • The runes themselves are utter gibberish, further supporting the fact that this is simply an alphanumeric identification code. Multiple readings are possible, since runes were used over many centuries to write very different languages, but no matter which reading you use, you end up with nonsense like "PZGA07ZG46DK2A".

Tracking down the originator of this (false) rumor is unfortunately beyond my capabilities, but it would probably be good if someone could remove it from IMDB.


It's the cirth. More specifically the cirth used by the men of Dale. All the tunes from the prisoner plates match up with runes used in "The Hobbit" by JRR Tolkien. It translates to nothing more than a serial number. Top line: PX390 Bottom line: PXGA0TXG46DZ

  • 3
    Please provide the source/data points to back your answer.
    – HBhatia
    Nov 26, 2015 at 18:02
  • 1
    Tolkien didn't invent the form of these runes, and since it doesn't make any more sense using his correspondences to modern spelling, there's no evidence of any connection to Tolkien at all.
    – wyvern
    Nov 26, 2015 at 19:14
  • @HBhatia: heirsofdurin.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/… If you skip to page 5 of this PDF you see an excerpt from The Annotated Hobbit, Appendix B. Though I encourage you to read the whole thing, the runes given are used in almost all of Tolkien's examples of dwarfish. (Try translating Durin's Map on page 6 of the same PDF) Nov 28, 2015 at 0:47
  • @sumelic: Here is a link with many connection of Rowling and Tolkien. I'm looking for the interview now, But i rcall her saying she was inspired by Tolkien greenbooks.theonering.net/guest/files/050102.html Nov 28, 2015 at 0:47
  • For further reference en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cirth#Runes_from_The_Hobbit Nov 28, 2015 at 0:55

Basing my answer purely on speculation and some sources, here is my opinion.

The first thing one must do to understand the question, is to understand the the runes. As you have stated, it translates into, "more or less human." Obviously more or less means, quote on quote, "speaking imprecisely," or "so-so."

This being said, you could say it means, he is so-so human.

This made me rack my brains about the fact about the traits of one person, if they were to commit murder, and furthermore make Horcruxes. It's apparently said that when Voldemort recreated his body sometime in 1994-95, Rowling described him as,

"having pale skin, a chalk-white, skull-like face, snake-like slits for nostrils, red eyes and cat-like slits for pupils, a skeletal thin body and long, thin hands with unnaturally long fingers."- Found Here, under Outward Appearance.

The translation said, "more or less human," so I researched for that quote and that characteristic. When one commits murder, they become "less human," because their soul is being ripped apart.

Sirius was accused of murdering many people, including Peter.

If you put two and two together, the translation could have meant him being so-so human because he murdered so many people, ripping his soul apart. As you could tell, Voldemort could easily classified as being so-so human.

When one is referred to as being a mass murderer, people tend to think, "How could a human do that?" I believe this translation is more of a word of speech; to think that a human could kill so many, completely thrashing their soul apart. To think if they really were a human; to be able to do so much damage. The opposite would be something evil. Evil beings are thought of not being human(to me). Again, word of speech.

The "less human" statements can be found here, under Dehumanization, although speculation.

  • 9
    The question isn't asking "what does more or less human mean? " The question is asking how those symbols can be translated to mean that. Dec 4, 2014 at 3:07
  • 1
    When I read "more or less human" I thought they meant the fact that he's an animagus.
    – Saturn
    Dec 4, 2014 at 4:32
  • @voldemort - Except that the authorities at Azkaban had no idea that he was an animagus.
    – Valorum
    Dec 4, 2014 at 7:30

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