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See also: Kaffir


Alternative forms[edit]


Ultimately from Arabic كَفَّار(kaffār, infidel) or كَافِر(kāfir, unbeliever), both from كَفَرَ(kafara, to cover, to hide); in some (especially early) uses, via Spanish cafre, Dutch kaffer or other European languages.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈkafə/
  • (file)


kaffir (countable and uncountable, plural kaffirs)

  1. (countable, offensive) In Islamic contexts, a non-Muslim. [from 16th c.]
    • 1804, Archibald Duncan, The Mariner's Chronicle, I:
      He [] put me in imminent danger of my life, by telling the natives that I was a Caffer, and not a Mussulman.
  2. (countable, offensive) A member of the Nguni people of southern Africa, especially a Xhosa. [from 16th c.]
    • 1792, The Analytical Review, Or History of Literature, Domestic and Foreign, on an Enlarged Plan, Volume 14:
      … the Hambonaas, a nation quite different from the Kaffers, having a yellowish complexion […].
  3. (countable, South Africa, Rhodesia, ethnic slur, offensive, derogatory) A black person. [from 17th c.]
    • 1959, Alf Ross, On Law and Justice:
      If you ask a Kaffir why he does so-and-so, he will answer—"How can I tell? It has always been done by our forefathers."
    • 1971, Naboth Mokgatle, The Autobiography of an Unknown South African:
      I once heard him say to the gardener, 'Come along, son.' His wife scolded him saying, 'He's not son, don't call him son, he's a kaffir.'
    • 1998, Antjie Krog, Country of My Skull:
      "… and today here a white man is calling me a kaffir. This term that I absolutely resented." And that, says Nofomela, is his political motive.
  4. (uncountable, historical, offensive) A language spoken by the Nguni peoples of southern Africa, especially Xhosa. [from 19th c.]
    • 1952, Doris Lessing, Martha Quest, Panther 1974, p. 73:
      This man, seeing a white person enter, moved aside for her, but she saw Joss's eyes on her, and said in kitchen kaffir, ‘No, when you've finished.’
  5. (finance, slang, historical) South African mining shares [from early 20th c.]
    • 1907 Truth, Vol 62, pg 688
      Kaffirs bouyant most of last week

Usage notes[edit]

This word was widely used in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Since the mid-twentieth century it has been regarded as derogatory.

Derived terms[edit]


See also[edit]