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A flautist (UK) or flutist (US) is a musician who plays any instrument in the flute family.

"Flautist" versus "flutist"[edit]

The choice of "flautist" (adopted during the eighteenth century from the Italian word flautista, itself from flauto) 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 printed version of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) does not indicate any regional preference for either form, the online Compact OED characterizes "flutist" as an American usage.[1]

Richard Rockstro, in his three-volume treatise The Flute[2] 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[3] states that "there seems no good reason" why "flautist" should have prevailed over "fluter" or "flutist." According to Webster's Dictionary of English Usage,[4] however, flautist is the preferred term in British English; and, in American English, while both terms are used, "flutist" is "by far the more common."

Also seen from around the mid-seventeenth century was "flutenist," which fell out of use by the end of the eighteenth century.[5]

While the term "flautist" is not found in print before 1860, there is no doubt, considering the influence of the Italian and French schools of flute playing, that the Italian term flautista and French term flûtiste would have been well known in England long before this date.[6] Because many significant composers during the Renaissance and Baroque periods were Italian or trained in Italy, most commonly used musical terms in English-speaking countries are Italian in origin.

Terms in other European languages for someone who plays a flute include ffliwtydd (Welsh), флејтист (Macedonian), flautist (Albanian, Icelandic, Romanian), flautista (Catalan, Croatian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish), flavtistka (Slovenian), flecista (Polish), fleitininkas (Lithuanian), flétnista (Czech, Slovak), fliúiteadóir (Gaelic), flöjtist (Swedish), flöödimängija (Estonian), Flötist (German), fløjtenist (Danish), fløytist (Norwegian), fluitist (Dutch), बांसुरी (Hindi), flütçü (Azerbaijani (Azeri), Turkish), flûtiste (French), and huilisti (Finnish).

Today, most players use the term which is dominant in their country of origin, or simply use the neutral "flute player." Famous flute players have frequently entered the debate expressing their own personal views; for instance, Nancy Toff, an American, devotes more than a page of her book The Flute Book 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 the flute, comparing the 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."[7]

Echoing the Toff quote above, James Galway summed up the way he feels about "flautist," saying: "I am a flute player not a flautist. I don't have a flaut and I've never flauted."[8]

In the "Flautist or flutist?" section in his book Proper Flute Playing,[9] 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."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "flutist". Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved September 16, 2005. 
  2. ^ Richard Shepherd Rockstro, The Flute (Fritz Knuf - Buren, The Netherlands, 1986 [1890])
  3. ^ Fowler's Modern English Usage (Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 201: "flautist, fluter, flutist".
  4. ^ Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Merriam-Webster Inc., 1989), p. 452: "flautist, flutist."
  5. ^ Smith, Fenwick. "Is it flutist or flautist?". Archived from the original on 16 January 2014. 
  6. ^ "Playing Styles". Archived from the original on 16 January 2014. 
  7. ^ Nancy Toff, The Flute Book, Scribners: 1985, "Flutist or Flautist?" (pp. xiv-xv).
  8. ^ "On the first day of Christmas my true love asked of me...", The Observer Magazine's 2007 Christmas quiz.
  9. ^ Trevor Wye, Proper Flute Playing, ISBN 0-7119-8465-4, p. 56.

External links[edit]