There is no difference between hotcakes and pancakes. Both words describe the popular round, flat cakes cooked on a griddle or inside a skillet. In addition to hotcakes, pancakes go by other names, such as flapjack and griddle cake.
Pancakes have been a part of the human diet since prehistoric times, although they were called something completely different. There is evidence that Ancient Romans enjoyed a food that is very similar to pancakes. The ingredients used to prepare various types pancakes, such as wheat flour, buckwheat, cornmeal, potatoes, water, eggs and milk, are part of many cultural diets.
In medieval Europe, pancakes gained wide popularity as a food that was prepared and eaten before the start of Lent. The hotcakes were part of Shrove celebrations, which started the tradition of pancake tossing. Children went out "lend crocking," a custom involving going to homes and asking for pancakes. If they didn't receive the requested food, they tossed broken pottery at the house.
Today, many cultures enjoy pancakes. Americans enjoy pancakes for breakfast topped with butter, syrup and maybe a dollop of fruit. The French enjoy a thin pancake that is more popularly known as a crepe. Mexicans make a pancake out of cornmeal, which is called a tortilla. Potato pancakes are enjoyed by European and Middle Eastern cultures.