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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
1780-90; < Arabic 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. 2015.
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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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