A flautist or flutist or flute player is a musician who plays any instrument in the flute family.
The choice of "flautist" (from the Italian flautista, from flauto, and adopted due to eighteenth century Italian influence) versus "flutist" is a source of dispute among players of the instrument. "Flutist" is the earlier term in the English language, dating from at least 1603 (the earliest quote cited by the Oxford English Dictionary), while "flautist" is not recorded before 1860, when it was used by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Marble Faun. While the print version of the OED does not indicate any regional preference for either form, the online Compact OED characterizes "flutist" as an American usage.
Richard Rockstro, in his three-volume treatise The Flute written in England in 1890, uses "flute-player."
The first edition of the OED lists fluter as dating from circa 1400 and Fowler's Modern English Usage states that "there seems no good reason" why flautist should have prevailed over fluter or flutist. However, according to Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, flautist is the preferred term in British English, and while both terms are used in American English flutist is "by far the more common choice."
Also seen from around the mid seventeenth century was flutenist, but this fell out of use by the end of the eighteenth century.
While the term flautist has not been found in print before 1860 there is no doubt that the Italian term flautista and French term flûtiste would have been well known in England long before this date, considering the influence of the Italian and French schools of flute playing. A great many of the commonly used musical terms in English speaking countries are Italian in origin, because many of the most important early composers from the Renaissance to the Baroque period were Italian. While there are many other words for a flute player in European languages, flautista and similar words feature prominently, so it is understandable how flautist became the preferred term in British English.
Words for a flute player in other European languages include: fluitspeler (Afrikaans), flautist (Albanian), flütçü (Azerbaijani), flautista (Catalan), flautista (Croatian), flétnista (Czech), fløjtenist (Danish), fluitist (Dutch), flöödimängija (Estonian), huilunsoittaja (Finnish), flûtiste (French), Flötist (German), flautist (Icelandic), fliúiteadóir (Gaelic), flautista (Italian), fleitininkas (Lithuanian), flautist (Macedonian), fløytisten (Norwegian), flecista (Polish), flautista (Portuguese), flautist (Romanian), flétnista (Slovak), flavtistka (Slovenian), flautista (Spanish), flöjtist (Swedish), flütçü (Turkish), ffliwtydd (Welsh).
Today most players use the term which is dominant in their country of origin, or simply call themselves flute players which has the benefit of being a neutral term which arouses no animosity from those who are loyal to their own usage. Famous flute players have frequently entered the debate expressing their own personal views:
The American player and writer Nancy Toff, in her The Flute Book, devotes more than a page to the subject, commenting that she is asked "Are you a flutist or a flautist?" on a weekly basis. She prefers "flutist": "Ascribe my insistence either to a modest lack of pretension or to etymological evidence; the result is the same." Toff, who is also an editor for Oxford University Press, describes in some detail the etymology of words for "flute," comparing OED, Fowler's Modern English Usage, Evans' Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage, and Copperud's American Usage and Style: The Consensus before arriving at her conclusion: "I play the flute, not the flaut; therefore I am a flutist not a flautist.
In the Flautist or flutist? section in his book Proper Flute Playing (ISBN 0-7119-8465-4 p. 56), Trevor Wye records the following conversation: "What do you do, young man?" "I'm a flautist", he replied. A long pause, then... "What exactly is it that you do with floors?" He then observes "Perhaps we should try flutist; it's simpler, self-explanatory and widely understood."
- "flutist". Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved September 16, 2005.
- Richard Shepherd Rockstro, The Flute (Fritz Knuf - Buren, The Netherlands, 1986)
- Fowler's Modern English Usage (Oxford University Press, 1965) "flautist, fluter, flutist" p. 201
- Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Merriam-Webster Inc., 1989), "flautist, flutist" p. 452)
- Nancy Toff, The Flute Book (Scribners, 1985), "Flutist or Flautist?" pp. xiv-xv
- "On the first day of Christmas my true love asked of me..." Christmas quiz, Observer Magazine
- Flute Chat: Extensive information regarding flutes, flute techniques and professional flute players is found here, with contributions from professional flutists.
- Famous players (may have to navigate)
- Facebook community page for Flute players