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In looking up a few words for security guard, I came across four words: 守衛{しゅえい}, ガードマン, 警備員{けいびいん}, and 警備人{けいびにん}. From what I can tell, ガードマン seems to be similar to 'rent-a-cop' - that is to say, it seems like a less respectful term for a security guard, and something a person would be less likely to call themselves than to be called. 警備員 and 警備人 appear to simply be variant kanji for the same word (with a preference towards 警備人), but I can't quite make out the difference between 警備員 and 守衛. Can anyone help clear this up?

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警備員 and ガードマン are both common, while the former sounds a bit more formal, and the latter is commonly used in conversations. I don't think ガードマン is less respectful at least in Japanese. 守衛 is not the most common word.

Strictly speaking, 警備員 and 守衛 are legally different (see the third question in this page). 警備員 is the official name of a certain profession which is regulated by a law called 警備業法. They are usually employed by 警備会社 (security firms) and sent to each facility, and are allowed to bear a small arm such as a baton. On the other hand, 守衛 refer to security guards privately/directly employed by a certain facility, and not regulated by 警備業法. That said, I think many people are not aware of this legal difference.

警備人 makes sense, but I would say it's very uncommon.

  • In practice, I think 守衛 is commonly used for 警備員 at the building. Those who stay in the small room near the entrance. It's interesting to see how the images change in Google Image. 警備員: google.co.jp/… 守衛: google.co.jp/… – user51966 Jun 29 '15 at 8:44

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