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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. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for Kaffir
Historical Examples
  • Another shell later in the day killed a Kaffir woman and her husband in a back garden off the main street.

    Ladysmith H. W. Nevinson
  • The Kaffir Billy carried my second rifle and a large bag of cartridges.

  • The burghers and the English had both seized positions on small hills and in abandoned Kaffir kraals.

    Three Years' War Christiaan Rudolf de Wet
  • We saw a Kaffir kraal on a hill, and to us "it was nothing more."

    The Defence of Duffer's Drift Ernest Dunlop Swinton
  • Kaffir boys from Klaas's brought in de news; and a white man escaped from Rozenboom's confirm it.

    Hilda Wade Grant Allen
  • It should be deep, because of the wild-cat and the hungry Kaffir dogs.

    The Dop Doctor Clotilde Inez Mary Graves
  • Consequently Dyke was able to pounce upon the Kaffir, whom he seized by the waist-cloth.

    Diamond Dyke George Manville Fenn
  • The other personage not mentioned by name is Congo, the Kaffir.

    The Giraffe Hunters Mayne Reid
  • The native gave me a good-day in Kaffir, then begged for tobacco or a handful of mealie-meal.

    Prester John John Buchan
  • The African spoke in a language which only the Kaffir understood.

    The Giraffe Hunters Mayne Reid
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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