GardenDrumMakrut v Kaffir lime – it’s a racist slur

Citrix hystrix, makrut lime

Makrut lime. Photo francisgoh

What do you call Citrus hystrix? Kaffir lime, or makrut lime? Chances are it’s the first one, but did you know what an offensively racist term that is?

Citrus hystrixMakrut lime is the common name widely used throughout Asia, including Thailand, where it is a common (and delicious) cooking ingredient. Although it has strangely wrinkled fruit and oddly lobed leaves, it’s essential for adding that special citrus zing.

However, makrut lime is more often called Kaffir lime in the USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. But did you know that ‘kaffir’ is a slang Afrikaans word that’s equivalent to n*gger for many Africans? Originally an Arabic word meaning ‘unbeliever’, its meaning is now clearly very offensive to many people.

Australia has managed to adapt to a renaming of its ‘black boys’ as ‘grass trees’ – let’s push out kaffir and make makrut our flavour of the day.

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6 thoughts on “Makrut v Kaffir lime – it’s a racist slur

  1. Dear Catherine,

    Thank you for espousing a change to our usage of the common term for Citrus hystrix. As you mentioned, the use of terms deemed derogatory, even if antique should not be condoned by continued usage. People complain about ‘political correctness’ as if it’s something annoying or negative. I suppose it is at that. After all we have to actually THINK before we speak now and actually consider the feelings of the people around us. A novel and often difficult exercise for some. Yet it is worth doing because at its core is a respect and sensitivity for the well-being of others as well as the encouragement for a better and more inclusive society.

  2. Hi Interested in the comments on Citrus hystrix. There are plenty of examples of what we might call inappropriate names for plants, boot polish, grandstands, cheese, that come from the past or . In fact if your writer had never mentioned it many would never have known.
    I think we are all wide eyed and aware of how to or not offend with racist or other comment but lets not get too precious with cleaning up on plant common names… when all else fails use the correct one!

  3. “Kaffir” limes originated in Sri Lanka, the term has nothing whatsoever to do with the South African slur. It’s even pronounced differently (kah-FEER, not KAFF-uhr).

    • Makrut limes are indigenous to a very broad area of southern central Asia and across south-east Asia. The word makrut comes from the Thai.
      It is only called a ‘kaffir lime’ by English speakers. Kaffir comes from the Arabic word ‘kafir’ which means anyone who is an unbeliever, and is/was a pejorative term applied to sub-Saharan Africans as well as the Indians and Sri Lankans who used the lime and traded it into Arabic countries. It was then picked up by English colonials.
      Pronouncing it differently doesn’t change its offensive meaning to many people.

      • So, would it be a slur if we called them “atheist” limes…and what about “Makrut”? Does anyone know what that word means? There are other phrases that can be considered slurs that we use all the time without giving them a second thought such as “pay through the nose” and “I got gypped.” “Gypped,” of course, comes from “Gypsy” who are tribes of wandering people from Egypt –and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I was in the Navy and don’t appreciate it when someone refers to a drunk with the phrase “drunk as a sailor” as if sailors get more inebriated than anyone else. Need I go on.

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