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I was talking with a friend who told me that Afghani is an offensive term for someone from Afghanistan, and I should use Afghan instead. Is this term offensive?

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Okay, my eyes are bleeding now, after reading the discussion here, what with its repeated use of the fgh consonant cluster. –  Tortoise Nov 6 '12 at 5:29
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8 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The correct term is Afghan although Afghani is often used as well.

The wiktionary entry1 for Afghani reads:

Afghani
  1. A citizen or native of Afghanistan. From an Afghan point of view this name is wrongly being used for Afghans. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan millions of Afghans took refuge in neighboring Pakistan. The Pakistanis and the international aid agencies coined this word to speak of Pakistanis versus the Afghans2.
  2. (usually lowercase) A monetary currency used in Afghanistan, divided into 100 pul.3

Purists will advocate the use of the former (Afghan) while well meaning ethnically minded people will often prefer the latter (Afghani) with no offensive connotation at all. Here is a randomly picked example.

I can see at least two reasons why Afghani could be perceived as offensive.

  • Its resemblance with Paki, a deliberately derogatory term for Pakistani.

  • The expression "Afghani Arab".  Afghanis are these Muslim fighters (mujahideen) from Arab countries who joined the various resistance movements in the last two decades of Afghan wars. In this sense, the final 'i' is the Arabic suffix marking an origin. The Arabic word for Afghan is also pronounced afġān (افغان). This is probably the meaning that your friend had in mind.


Note 1:
Wiktionary is actually missing a third meaning: Afghani being also a lesser used synonym for the Pashtu language.
Note 2:
To be understood as "The Pakistanis and the international aid agencies coined this word to speak of Pakistanis [Afghans] versus the Afghans [who stayed in Afghanistan]".
Note 3:
Because of the succession of governments in Afghanistan, Afghanis banknotes are often redesigned and are both affordable and appreciated by banknotes collectors. My preferred one.

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Though wikitionary seems a bit more reliable than 'Urban Dictionary', you still have to wonder sometimes. To say that 'Afghani' is a coined word seems pretty strange. It might be a new usage by those particular agencies in English, but the '-i' suffix for 'someone from that place' is productive in English, too. Iraqi, Saudi, Pakistani, Omani, etc (of course it doesn't work for all places, but it does for some). –  Mitch May 29 '11 at 14:29
    
I think it may have been the reference to the Afghanis as Mujahideen that the person took as offensive. –  gbutters May 30 '11 at 23:25
    
@Mitch: Are you sure it's productive in English, rather than Iraqi/Saudi/Omani/etc being loans from Arabic (where the -i suffix certainly is productive)? –  psmears Jul 1 '11 at 7:58
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@psmears, I agree with you. Especially in light of the fact that the alleged "English" productiveness of the "-i" suffix seems to be restricted to Arabic speaking or Muslim countries. Only known exception to me: "a Froggy" ;-) –  Alain Pannetier Φ Jul 1 '11 at 8:06
    
@psmears: No, I don't -know- if it's productive; I haven't done the research (a loan suffix can be productive like the French-derived '-ee'. But it does sound very natural to me (in English, the extant official examples ending in '-i' can be non-Arabic, like Somali or many Indian examples like Hindi or Bengali). –  Mitch Jul 1 '11 at 13:04
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I would be surprised if your friend were Afghan.

Afghani is simply a Persian/Dari genitive and so in itself is not offensive, though Afghan is better English, while al-Afghani turns up in several people's names. The only real issue is who has previously used it for what purpose. Paki for example is offensive in Britain, solely because of its racist use in the the past, and for obvious reasons is more offensive when aimed at Indians than at Pakistanis.

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+1 for citing Paki and the -i(n) Arabic genitive (no plagiarism from my part, I was just writing my answer). –  Alain Pannetier Φ May 29 '11 at 2:28
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@Alain: NB The -i suffix for origin in Arabic is distinct from the -i(n) genitive ending: the former is really -iyyu(n)/-iyya(n)/-iyyi(n) according to case, but the case endings are not pronounced in all but the most formal of speech so it becomes -iyy and in turn -i. –  psmears Jul 1 '11 at 8:04
    
@psmears, I didn't know that. Thx. –  Alain Pannetier Φ Jul 1 '11 at 8:09
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I lived in Afghanistan for a couple of years and here's the lowdown - you call the inhabitants of Afghanistan (whether they are of Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Nuristani etc. ethnic origin)- AFGHANS. The money they use is called an Afghani. It's not offensive per se. Maybe if used in the context where you use these terms for someone who's not an Afghan - it could be offensive.

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I am Afghan, and when people say Afghani, we instantly think of the currency. We use Afghan to represent that someone is from Afghanistan.

It's not offensive per se, but it's not correct. It's not that big deal, though. Just try to use the right word, but if you don't, it's not going to be the end of the world.

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It's funny, because as a North American, when I hear "Afghan"/"afghan" I am as likely to think of a knitted blanket (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_(blanket)) as a person from Afghanistan. Compare that with a Danish (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danish_pastry), a dessert. The separate word "Dane" is supposed to be used for "Danish person". I wouldn't be surprised if some of the impetus behind "Afghani" were to re-create such a distinction. This is especially interesting given that "Afghani" is relatively new to English. –  Merk Oct 19 '12 at 2:08
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To refer to Afghans as Afghanis is not offensive at all. In Dari/Persian when we talk about people we say for instance, "Is he Afghani or Pakistani?". Of course we ask this in Dari which goes like this, "Afghani ast ya Pakistani?" Is this offensive? Hell NO!

In Dari Grammar to make an adjective from a noun you put the suffix -i at the end. Example: America is noun to refer to the people of America we say, "Amerikai" or American. Iran is a country and people from Iran are Irani. Of course this is all in Dari. That is how the grammar works.

Finally, the word Afghani which is used for the Afghan currency is a Pashto word which is pronounced differently from Afghani. It is even written differently in Pashto. But because that Pashto sound does not exist in Dari, people say Afghani when they refer to people and when they talk about money they use Afghani. So, it is the context that matters. If you talk about currency you say Afghani and people know you talk about money. When you talk about people you say Afghani and people know you refer to Afghans or Afghanis.

Next time someone corrects you that it is incorrect or offensive to refer to an Afghan as Afghani, refer them to this post!

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My NOAD says that Afghani is the "the basic monetary unit of Afghanistan, equal to 100 puls", while Afghan (you can see it also here) is the term that indicates a person from Afghanistan. Maybe that explains why the term is perceived as offensive by people from Afghanistan.

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In Persian(Dari or etc) it look different. Afghan refer to nation not someone from Afghanistan. and for Afghani used for Afghanistan people.(like Italian or American )

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The OED has the following to say:

afghan A native or inhabitant of Afghanistan.

afghani The principal monetary unit of Afghanistan, divided into 100 units.

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