[ kaf-er, kah-fer ]
/ ˈkæf ər, ˈkɑ fər /

noun, plural Kaf·firs, (especially collectively) Kaf·fir.

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 formsnon-Kaf·fir, 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.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for kaffir

  • The pied birds called 'Kaffir queens' fluttered across the path.

    Prester John|John Buchan
  • The great stockbroker of the 'Kaffir Circus' entered with a simple unassuming air.

British Dictionary definitions for kaffir



/ (ˈkæfə) /

noun plural -firs or -fir

taboo (in southern Africa) any Black African
offensive (among Muslims) a non-Muslim or infidel

Word Origin for Kaffir

C19: from Arabic kāfir infidel, from kafara to deny, refuse to believe


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
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

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