A flautist or flutist 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 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.
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."
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."
See also 
- "flutist". Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved September 16, 2005.
- Richard Shepherd Rockstro, The Flute (Fritz Knuf - Buren, The Netherlands, 1986)
- Nancy Toff, The Flute Book (Scribners, 1985), "Flutist or Flautist?" pp. xiv-xv
- 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)
- "On the first day of Christmas my true love asked of me..." Christmas quiz, Observer Magazine