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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.



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 souther 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.’

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