Kaf·​fir ˈka-fər How to pronounce Kaffir (audio)
variants or Kafir
archaic : a member of a group of southern African Bantu-speaking peoples
often not capitalized chiefly South Africa, offensive; see usage paragraph below
used as an insulting and contemptuous term for a Black African
Usage of Kaffir

In South Africa, the use of the term Kaffir to refer to a Black African is a profoundly offensive and inflammatory expression of contemptuous racism that is sufficient grounds for legal action. The term is associated especially with the era of apartheid, when it was commonly used as an offensive racial slur, and its offensiveness has only increased over time. It now ranks as perhaps the most offensive term in South African English.

Word History


Arabic kāfir infidel

First Known Use

1778, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of Kaffir was in 1778

Dictionary Entries Near Kaffir

Cite this Entry

“Kaffir.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Kaffir. Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

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