AskDefine | Define Hottentot

Dictionary Definition

Hottentot n : any of the Khoisan languages spoken by the pastoral people of Namibia and South Africa [syn: Khoikhoin, Khoikhoi]

User Contributed Dictionary



From variously ascribed to mean stutterer; and from hot en tot being an approximation of common sounds in the Khoi language. First known use 1677 (in Dutch).

Proper noun

  1. A member of the Khoi group of peoples.
  2. The Language of the Khoi remarkable for its clicks.
  3. Any of several fish of the species Pachymetopon
  • The origional Webster's Definition is amazingly crass and is included for interest. "one of a degraded and savage race of South Africa, with yellowish brown complection, high cheek bones and wooly hair growing in tufts". Webster's International Dictionary 1902.
  • Lady Ann Barnard: Letters and Journals: 1798-1801 "I was told that the Hottentots were uncommonly ugly and disgusting, but I do not think them so bad. Their features are small and their cheekbones immense, but they have a kind expression and countenance."
  • George Bernard Shaw: Pygmalion: 1948: "I have tried her with every sort of sound that a human being can make...Hottentot clicks, things it took me years to get hold of."

Derived terms



  • Webster's International Dictionary 1902.
  • Jean Bradford: A dictionary of South African English: Oxford 1978.

Extensive Definition

The Khoikhoi ('People People', less accurately 'men of men') or Khoi, in standardised Khoekhoe/Nama orthography spelled Khoekhoe, are a historical division of the Khoisan ethnic group of southwestern Africa, closely related to the Bushmen (or San, as the Khoikhoi called them). They had lived in southern Africa since the 5th century AD and, at the time of the arrival of white settlers in 1652, practised extensive pastoral agriculture in the Cape region, with large herds of Nguni cattle.
Archaeological evidence shows that the Khoikhoi entered South Africa from Botswana through two distinct routes – travelling west, skirting the Kalahari to the west coast, then down to the Cape, and travelling south-east out into the Highveld and then southwards to the south coast.


The name Khoekhoe most accurately translates to 'People People'. They were traditionally—and are still occasionally in colloquial language—known to white colonists as the Hottentots, a name that is currently generally considered offensive (e.g. by the Oxford Dictionary of South African English). The word "hottentot" meant "stutterer" or "stammerer" in the colonists' northern dialect of Dutch, although some Dutch use the verb stotteren to describe the clicking sounds (klik being the normal onomatopoeia, parallel to English) typically used in the Khoisan languages. The word lives on, however, in the names of several African animal and plant species, such as the Hottentot Fig or Ice Plant (Carpobrotus edulis).


The Khoikhoi were originally part of a pastoral culture and language group found across Southern Africa. Originated in the northern area of modern Botswana, the ethnic group steadily migrated south, reaching the Cape approximately 2,000 years ago. Khoikhoi subgroups include the Korana of mid-South Africa, the Namaqua to the west, and the Khoikhoi in the south. Husbandry of sheep, goats and cattle provided a stable, balanced diet and allowed the related Khoikhoi peoples to live in larger groups than the region's original inhabitants, the San. Herds grazed in fertile valleys across the region until the 3rd century AD when the advancing Bantu encroached into their traditional homeland. The Khoikhoi were forced into a long retreat into more arid areas.
Migratory Khoi bands living around what is today Cape Town, South Africa, intermarried with San. However the two groups remained culturally distinct as the Khoikhoi continued to graze livestock and the San subsisted as hunter-gatherers. The Khoi initially came into contact with European explorers and merchants in approximately AD 1500. The ongoing encounters were often violent, although the British made some attempt to develop more amiable relationships. Local population dropped when the Khoi were exposed to smallpox by Europeans. Active warfare between the groups flared when the Dutch East India Company enclosed traditional grazing land for farms. Over the following century the Khoi were steadily driven off their land, which effectively ended traditional Khoikhoi life.
Khoikhoi social organisation was profoundly damaged and, in the end, destroyed by European colonial expansion and land seizure from the late 17th century onwards. As social structures broke down, some Khoikhoi people settled on farms and became bondsmen or farmworkers; others were incorporated into existing clan and family groups of the Xhosa people.


The religious mythology of the Khoikhoi gives special significance to the moon, which may have been viewed as the physical manifestation of a supreme being associated with heaven. Tsui'goab is also believed to be the creator and the guardian of health, while Gunab is primarily an evil being, who causes sickness or death. Recently, many Khoikhoi in Namibia have converted to Islam and make up the largest group among Namibia's Muslim community.


In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dr. James Mortimer tells Sherlock Holmes, "Many a charming evening we [Charles Baskerville and James] have spent together discussing the comparative anatomy of the Bushman and the Hottentot."


  • P. Kolben, Present State of the Cape of Good Hope (London, 1731-38);
  • A. Sparman, Voyage to the Cape of Good Hope (Perth, 1786);
  • Sir John Barrow, Travels into the Interior of South Africa (London, 1801);
  • Bleek, Reynard the Fox in South Africa; or Hottentot Fables and Tales (London, 1864);
  • Emil Holub, Seven Years in South Africa (English translation, Boston, 1881);
  • G. W. Stow, Native Races of South Africa (New York, 1905);
  • A. R. Colquhoun, Africander Land (New York, 1906);
  • L. Schultze, Aus Namaland und Kalahari (Jena, 1907);
  • Meinhof, Die Sprachen der Hamiten (Hamburg, 1912);
  • Richard Elphick, Khoikhoi and the Founding of White South Africa (London, 1977)
Hottentot in Afrikaans: Khoikhoi
Hottentot in Bulgarian: Койкой
Hottentot in Catalan: Khoikhoi
Hottentot in Czech: Hotentoti
Hottentot in Danish: Khoikhoi
Hottentot in German: Khoi Khoi
Hottentot in Spanish: Khoikhoi
Hottentot in Esperanto: Kojoj
Hottentot in Persian: خویخوی
Hottentot in French: Khoïkhoï
Hottentot in Italian: Khoi
Hottentot in Dutch: Khoikhoi
Hottentot in Japanese: コイコイ人
Hottentot in Norwegian: Khoikhoi
Hottentot in Polish: Hotentoci
Hottentot in Russian: Готтентоты
Hottentot in Slovenian: Kojkojni
Hottentot in Serbo-Croatian: Hotentoti
Hottentot in Finnish: Khoit
Hottentot in Swedish: Khoikhoi
Hottentot in Ukrainian: Готтентоти
Hottentot in Contenese: 科伊科伊人
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