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Khoikhoi is the collective name for the hunter-gatherer people of Khoikhoi (or Khoi-Khoi) descent.

In the mid 17th century the name Hottentot was given to any member (or descendent) of the Southern African branch of Khoikhoi by the Dutch settlers, in immitation of the sounds they heard in the Khoekhoe languages spoken by the Khoikhoi.

The name Khoikhoi was later contracted to the more familiar, Khoi, used today - also used in the combination Khoi-San when referring to the all original inhabitants of Southern Africa - i.e. the San and the Khoikhoi. (The former group was at one time denigratingly referred to as Bushmen (or Bosjesmannen in Dutch and Boesmans in Afrikaans) and the Khoikhoi again as Hottentots (Hottentotte in Dutch or Afrikaans).

This name was soon contracted to "Hotnot" in the spoken language by Dutch-, and later Afrikaans-speaking people in the Cape. In the 19th and 20th centuries, as the numbers of "pure" "Hottentots" dwindled, the term was expanded to refer to all people of mixed race heritage and gradually was also used denigratingly (particularly in the contracted form of "hotnots") to imply inferiority and lack of culture and morals, and was used in this way by a number of earlier writers to refer to any uncivilized, even dangerously unstable person(or persons).

As the use dwindled it was generally replaced as a general term by coloured.

By the 1980’s the term was seen as highly derogatory and replaced by the more "correct" Khoi or /Xhoi (the / indicating a click sound). However by 2000 this had been challenged in its turn, with the etymology of "Hottentot" being reappraised by some descendants of the origial descendents of the Khoikhoi.

See also Coloured and Griqua.

Though the term is of course found in numerous books, novels, poems and plays from the 18th to the 20th century, a number of them classic works, it is today seen as politically incorrect and features among the many proscribed racial terms formerly found in South Africa.