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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): /ˈkæfə/
  • (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.
    • 2000 April 9, Squirrel, “SA Silence on Mugabe's actions”, in soc.culture.south-africa, Usenet[1]:
      Monkey see, monkey do ... which in this case refers to the baboons in Rhodesia - proves just how vulnerable the whities are in the hands of the kaffirs.
  4. (uncountable, now 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
  6. (uncountable) Short for kaffir corn.
    • 1907, Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College System, Bulletin (volumes 93-117, page 5)
      This market reports only one or two cars per day, selling by the hundred weight, and at a price a little lower than that of Indian corn. As to the purpose for which the marketed kaffir is used, there is some uncertainty.

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]