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The Unfortunate Error of the Manolo | Manolo's Shoe Blog

The Unfortunate Error of the Manolo

Manolo says, all this afternoon the Manolo has been hearing from his internet friends, and from the readers of his column in the Express of the Washington Post, alerting the Manolo to the unfortunate use of the word “kaffir”, which appears as the name of the shoes he recommended.

This letter from the Manolo’s reader Matthews M. is not untypical.

Dear Manolo

I refer to your article in today’s Express, p E3 where you refer to the icon look – kaffir.

You did not name the shoe. Did you know that the word “kaffir” in South Africa is as derogatory as the “N” word is in the US?

Sadly, the Manolo did not know the full extent of the hurtful vulgarity of this word. You may be assured that if he had known he would not have recommended this shoe, indeed, he would have recommended the entirely different designer.

The Manolo must now ask for your forgiveness, and hope that you, his dear readers, will not allow this unfortunate error to stand between us.

21 Responses to “The Unfortunate Error of the Manolo”

  1. materfamilias July 27, 2007 at 7:26 pm #

    so are the (justifiably) offended folk letting Maxstudio know how they feel or is this a case of shooting the messenger?

  2. visitor July 27, 2007 at 8:08 pm #

    The Manolo should not ask forgiveness for himself.

    Had I been in the shoes of the Manolo I too would have mentioned the name because, like him, I had no idea the word was offensive, and even now unless I Google for it will not learn to which group or specific sub-group it applies, or what its connotations are. The only association of the word I’m aware of is the name of an Israeli fighter jet, and even in that case I haven’t the foggiest notion what it refers to.

    I would suggest the Manolo simply edit the term out of his posts, put on his best shoes, and stride forward secure in the knowledge that if offense were indeed given, it was not he that gave it.

  3. Noga July 27, 2007 at 8:15 pm #

    “Kaffir’ has several meanings, as explained here:


    “The word Kafir an Islamic term usually translated as “infidel”.

    Kaffir (ethnic slur), an offensive ethnic/racial label, used mostly in South Africa and Jamaica. Since 1976, use of the word has constituted the crime of crimen injuria in South Africa.

    Kaffir (Historical usage in southern Africa), an obsolete blanket term for the majority of natives of Southern Africa

    Nguni languages, called the Kaffir languages in the 19th century ”

    It can also mean “Kaffir Lime” which is a different species to the Tahitian Lime:


    There is also Kaffir cheese which is a Lebanese style yogurt.

  4. Noga July 27, 2007 at 8:17 pm #

    “The only association of the word I’m aware of is the name of an Israeli fighter jet”

    The jet you refer to is actually called “K’fir” and it means in Hebrew, a young lion.

  5. Pearl July 27, 2007 at 9:09 pm #

    Do not apologize. A lot of words have different connotations in different countries. You wouldn’t ask forgiveness for ordering your steak “bloody” because a Brit was within earshot, would you? Or berate them for “sucking on a fag”, right? Having a fondness for Thai food, my immediate association with kaffir is the lime and it’s leaves: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaffir_lime

  6. uberangie July 27, 2007 at 9:55 pm #

    definitely thought kaffir lime. bad maxstudio marketing team. bad bad.

  7. T.C. July 27, 2007 at 9:57 pm #

    It was always understood that the Manolo would never use such a word intentionally. MaxStudio is the party at fault and must suffer the shame of having made this appalling faux pas.

  8. Danielle July 28, 2007 at 2:49 am #

    Who could get (or stay) mad at the lovable Manolo? I don’t think such a person exists. (Besides, coulda happened to anyone. I’m very interested in visiting SA, but I don’t know a single word in Afrikaans or any African language. You can’t really hold people responsible for languages they don’t speak and a culture that isn’t widely-known. I agree with Pearl.)

  9. gemdiva July 28, 2007 at 10:43 am #

    Judging from the comments above (which echo my own) the Manolo may now remove his hair shirt and resume his impeccably resplendent & stylish attire as he is forgiven this unintentional slip.

  10. chachaheels July 29, 2007 at 10:42 am #

    The word has many different meanings, which include the nasty meaning the offended reader mentioned.

    It is also a name of a people (and the language they speak) in Sri Lanka–a name which does not have the same derogatory meaning!

    As well as the name of a citrus plant used often in Indian and Thai cooking–the kaffir lime.

    I’m not sure an apology is in order, as of course everyone knows the “mistake” is not the lovely Manolo’s. Maxstudio may not have been thinking anything but the positive and named their shoe after a cool, refreshing flavour like the kaffir leaf’s essence.

    Which means the name selection needs to be rethought.

  11. Agnes July 29, 2007 at 11:27 am #

    Anyway, I’ve never understood those fishing for offensiveness in everyday language. This over-the-top political correctness can kill any possible word, and what for? Usually those “protected” don’t even care until a hystery is whipped up. Wouldn’t it be better to concentrate on behaviour and help people learn empathy and concern for others’ well-being? *sigh*

    The Manolo would be a good example for commendable manners though: apologizing when innocent, to make someone feel better is a very, very responsible way to react :)

  12. Phyllis July 29, 2007 at 9:13 pm #

    I’m another person in the citrus category.

  13. Amber July 30, 2007 at 11:25 am #

    I thought kaffir was a type of lime!

  14. MRL July 30, 2007 at 1:43 pm #

    The Manolo has been way too apologetic about this, and we, his readers, have to way to niggardly in our praise of him.

  15. zvi July 30, 2007 at 4:01 pm #

    Thank you, Manolo, for being a considerate human being, apologizing when you have offended, and working to correct the offense. I know (and Mathews M. knew) that you didn’t intend to offend. What so many people who find themselves in a similar position to yourself don’t seem to grasp is that, after the offensive has been explained to you, clinging to the use of the offended term is now an intentional offense. If there were a shoemaven who used the term ‘kaffir’, was corrected, and refused to change, they would have decided that shoes were more important than not insulting people. I’m glad that you realize that people are more important than shoes. Not everyone does.

  16. Obis Sister July 30, 2007 at 9:16 pm #

    Don’t apologize. You didn’t know and the “Overly Sensitive” need to get a life. See http://www.slate.com/id/2171371/fr/flyout

  17. Ninjarina July 31, 2007 at 1:09 am #

    Thank you for handling this with the utmost grace. I believe that it was not your intention to offend and in fact, you were merely stating the name that the company had given the shoe – an honest mistake.

    I first thought of “kefir” the milk/yoghurt drink myself.

  18. VeddyVeddyBadAng July 31, 2007 at 2:51 pm #

    MRL, an excellent example of an often misunderstood word! Very apropo.

  19. Gorgeous Things August 2, 2007 at 10:35 am #

    Oh, Dear Manolo, I would have thought of the lime used in Indonesian cooking and my rijstaffel. I had no idea it was such a vile slur. I made a similar mistake when I did a post and one of my readers kindly and privately pointed out that the word I used, which is a nonsense word here in the US, in Great Britain is slang for the act of procreation. I was mortified. I know you had only good intentions in your post.

  20. Laura August 2, 2007 at 4:40 pm #


    Your entirely-appropriate and gentlemanly apology makes me think warmly of you. It is indeed hard to know all the implications of words we might say — especially words that cross language boundaries in unexpected fashions. And when the problem came to light, you did the right thing, graciously, rather than becoming defensive or unpleasant. I, for one, appreciate it.

  21. elayne August 4, 2007 at 10:44 pm #

    Worry not.

    Just last night I was rereading one of my favorite authors, particularly a scene in which Commander Vimes of the police force of the city of Ankh-Morpork (who is also, by marriage, Ankh-Morprok’s Duke) is instructed to go to the (city, country, area) of Bonk for political business.
    Taken aback by the name, Vimes says, shocked, “…Bonk?”
    His trusty right hand man says, “It’s properly pronounced bey-onk. And there are only so many syllables in the human language. In [faroff place], ‘morpork’ is the name for a rather indecent item of ladies’ underclothing.”

    We humans only have so many sounds to work with. As long as we use them with grace, dignity, respect, and wit – and accept corrections where necessary – the world will be a better place.