1790, from Arabic qafir "unbeliever, infidel, impious wretch," with a lit. sense of "one who does not admit the blessings of God," from kafara "to cover up, conceal, deny." Technically, "non-Muslim," but in Ottoman times it came to be used almost exclusively for "Christian." Early Eng. 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.