When you look up the word kingsman in Wiktionary, its etymology shows that it is compounded with king + s + man in the same way as Klansman (Ku Klux Klan's member), huntsman (a man who hunts) or kinsman (a man who is one of a person's blood relations).

I believe that such nouns have evolved into their current forms as ' (apostrophe) was not absolutely necessary.

I thought about the difference in their nuance and meaning between kingsman and king's man especially after watching the movie Kingsman: The Secret Service.

The meaning of kingsman is not even listed in Oxford Online Dictionary, Collins and Merriam-Webster and only Wiktionary has the following meaning:

(military) The lowest enlisted rank in the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment of the British Army, equivalent to private in the rest of the British Army.

The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment doesn't seem to be well known (at least to me) and there must be a reason why the word kingsman is not even listed in a major dictionary.

  1. What does kingsman mean exactly? If it means the lowest enlisted rank like private in the U.S. army, it doesn't sound very prestigious and honorable.

  2. Is it a kind of neologism that suddenly became very popular when the movie was released? I am particularly interested in finding out how this word had been used in BrE and AmE before the movie was released.

  3. What is the difference in terms of nuance and meaning between kingsman and king's man?

3 Answers 3


Wikipedia informs us that the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment was formed in 2004 from three regiments, one of which was the King's Regiment, which itself was formed in 1958 from two regiments, one of which was the King's Regiment, Liverpool, one of oldest infantry units in the British Army, formed in 1685.. So it's no surprise that its members became known as kingsman or that the regiment adopted the nickname for its lowest ranked NCO. The nickname kingsman is attested to by Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. I expect that it would be the membership that was prestigious, regardless of rank.

Partridge notes that the nickname King's Men belongs to the 78th Regiment of Foot, formed in 1793, later (1881) the Seaforth Highlanders, a derivation not from their name but from their Gaelic motto Cuidich 'n Righ, help the king.

The OED (you'll have to check the paper supplement) does not distinguish between kingsman and King's man, and lists only non-military usages:

  • The King's Majesty's Servants, a dramatic company under James I (from 1613)
  • A Loyalist in the American Revolution (from 1809, which seems a little late since the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 ending a brouhaha that started in 1765)
  • A member of King's College, Cambridge (from 1803, which seems more than a little late since the college was founded in 1441)

All of the above showing both the attributive and possessive forms derived from a royal association.

  • Thank you for your answer. It makes sense why it was used for the movie title.
    – user140086
    Dec 27, 2015 at 13:06

A kingsman was also neckerchief worn by costermongers. Wikipedia:

Costermongers had their own dress code. In the mid nineteenth century, men wore long waistcoats of sandy coloured corduroy with buttons of brass or shiny mother of pearl. Trousers, also made of corduroy, had the distinctive bell-bottomed leg. Footwear was often decorated with a motif of roses, hearts and thistles. Neckerchiefs — called king's men — were of green silk or red and blue.


King's Men was the name of Shakespeare's theatre company after it received its royal patent from James I in 1603. Anything after that is, as with many things, simply a derivation from what Shakespeare did.

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