The 1969 Bond Film was titled "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".

I have always wondered what was with the use of "On" in this phrase. Certainly, it should be "In Her Majesty's Secret Service"?

Is "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" even correct English? Does it mean anything?

  • 1
    You need to show your research when asking here. – GEdgar Aug 24 '18 at 16:00
  • Isn't a football player (of either variety) commonly said to be "on the team" of which he is a member? – Hot Licks Aug 24 '18 at 16:26
  • Worth noting that in French, which had a lot of influence on English, our “in” and “on” both translate to the same single word. – WGroleau Aug 24 '18 at 23:22
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    @WGroleau: I don't think that's true; French has several prepositions corresponding to "in" and "on", such as dans, en, and sur. – ruakh Aug 25 '18 at 1:07

The preposition on has a number of different meanings depending on the context in which it is used.

In the case of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", on is

used to describe an activity or a state

  • to be on business/holiday/vacation
  • The book is currently on loan.

Let's look at the term to be on active service

Someone who is on active service is taking part in a war as a member of the armed forces.

In James Bond's case he is "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"

This usage is mainly British.

As Michael Harvey pointed out in the comments:


is used on official letters from British or Commonwealth government offices.

See Google images: On Her Majesty's Service envelopes

OHMS is the abbreviation for 'On Her Majesty's Service' or 'On His Majesty's Service'.

O.H.M.S also refers to a 1937 British comedy Film renamed You're in the Army now for American audiences. The 007 movie was probably a play on words.

In American English in service would certainly apply.

  1. in the armed forces
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    Until the 1970s, 'On Her Majesty's Service' used to be printed on all envelopes containing letters mailed out by UK government departments, sometimes abbreviated to 'OHMS'. I believe the film title could be, at least in part, a play on that. – Michael Harvey Aug 24 '18 at 16:04
  • I've shamelessly incorporated your comment into my answer. I sincerely hope it's not out of order :) – bookmanu Aug 24 '18 at 16:24
  • I am flattered that you found my comment useful, however you altered it slightly. 'On Her (or His) Majesty's Service' was usually printed in full on Government envelopes. 'OHMS' was found where there was not enough space for the full wording. picture here – Michael Harvey Aug 24 '18 at 16:53
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    In British English, to be 'in service' has (had?) a specific meaning - to be employed as a domestic servant (butler, housemaid, etc). – Michael Harvey Aug 24 '18 at 16:56
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    @Jonathon Of course not! With "On Her Majesty's Service", the "on" is being used in the same sense as "going away ON business", perhaps "on army business". James Bond, when on mission, was on very special business, indeed "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". He was also more generally "in the secret service" in the same way that someone might be "in the army". – WS2 Aug 24 '18 at 18:33

Wikipedia has this:

On Her Majesty's Secret Service was written in Jamaica at Fleming's Goldeneye estate in January and February 1962, whilst the first Bond film, Dr. No was being filmed nearby. The first draft of the novel was 196 pages long and called The Belles of Hell. Fleming later changed the title after being told of a nineteenth-century sailing novel called On Her Majesty's Secret Service, seen by Fleming's friend Nicholas Henderson in Portobello Road Market.

name of the novel

Found it: On Her Majesty's Secret Service, at the British Library

Title: On Her Majesty's Secret Service. [A novel.]

Publication Details: London : I. & R. Maxwell, 1878.

Identifier: System number 001657270

Physical Description: 314 p. ; 8º.

Shelfmark(s): General Reference Collection 12356.h.32.

UIN: BLL01001657270

To find out why it's titled like that, you'd have to read it. I see no author listed.

  • On Her Majesty's Service by Miss M.C. Hay? – bookmanu Aug 24 '18 at 16:50
  • I really have no idea. :) – Lambie Aug 24 '18 at 17:05
  • I misedited the title and left out "secret". The recto page has other novels by Miss M.C. Hay. I love making assumptions and jumping to conclusions! :) – bookmanu Aug 24 '18 at 17:17
  • No worries at all. Yes, I do the same thing. :) – Lambie Aug 24 '18 at 19:05

On is used here to indicate that Bond is a member of the Secret Service. For reference, please refer to the Oxford Dictionaries definition linked below.

4 As a member of (a committee, jury, or other body)
‘they would be allowed to serve on committees’

source - https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/on

For other examples of this type of usage, consider the following sentence.

"Tommy is on the debate team."

  • 2
    Could you please add something original to this answer? Stack Exchange answers should contain your own original work, not merely citations without explanations. – tchrist Aug 24 '18 at 17:23
  • Perfect as a comment, less so as an answer. You should clearly attribute the definition. – Mari-Lou A Aug 24 '18 at 18:40
  • Sources MUST be attributed clearly in plain text, not merely as the destination of an apparently anonymous link. And I concur: without your own editorial content, this may well end up as a comment (at best). – Andrew Leach Aug 24 '18 at 19:51

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