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[kaf-er, kah-fer] /ˈkæf ər, ˈkɑ fər/
noun, plural Kaffirs (especially collectively) Kaffir.
Disparaging and Offensive. (in South Africa) a contemptuous term used to refer to a black person: originally used of the Xhosa people only.
(lowercase) kafir (def 4).
(lowercase) Islam. kafir (def 2).
Origin of Kaffir
First recorded in 1780-90, Kaffir is from the Arabic word kāfir unbeliever, infidel, skeptic
Related forms
non-Kaffir, noun
Usage note
In reference to a black person, Kaffir was a usually neutral term in earlier times, but its degree of offensiveness has increased markedly. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for Kaffir
Historical Examples
  • If it were a Westralian or a Kaffir I would n't touch it with a pair of tongs!

    Joy (First Series Plays) John Galsworthy
  • When a Kaffir strikes a diamond, he gets a commission, and so does his overseer.

    The Manxman Hall Caine
  • Just as the top was reached, the Kaffir plucked Harvey's arm.

    On the Heels of De Wet

    The Intelligence Officer
  • When the urgency is great, a girl is more reliable than a Kaffir.

    On the Heels of De Wet

    The Intelligence Officer
  • A group of startled Kaffir children gaze at him in astonishment.

    The Petticoat Commando

    Johanna Brandt
  • There was not a farm, not a Boer or Kaffir, not even a tree to be seen.

    The Mask

    Arthur Hornblow
  • I saw a Kaffir fire three shots from about thirty yards off.'

    The War in South Africa

    Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Kaffir Billy carried my second rifle and a large bag of cartridges.

  • The Kaffir servants looked at each other and at their master.

  • No answer; but the muttering went on, and Dyke turned to the Kaffir woman.

    Diamond Dyke George Manville Fenn
British Dictionary definitions for Kaffir


noun (pl) -firs, -fir
(taboo) (in southern Africa) any Black African
(offensive) (among Muslims) a non-Muslim or infidel
Usage note
In South Africa the use of this word is nowadays completely taboo, and is indeed actionable in the courts. It is also advisable not to use the word in any of the compounds to which it gave rise
Word Origin
C19: from Arabic kāfir infidel, from kafara to deny, refuse to believe
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for Kaffir

1790, from Arabic kafir "unbeliever, infidel, impious wretch," with a literal sense of "one who does not admit the blessings of God," from kafara "to cover up, conceal, deny, blot out." Technically, "non-Muslim," but in Ottoman times it came to be used almost exclusively for "Christian." Early English missionaries used it as an equivalent of "heathen" to refer to Bantus in South Africa (1792), from which use it came generally to mean "South African black" regardless of ethnicity, and to be a term of abuse since at least 1934.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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