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Flautist vs. flutist

For the noun denoting a person who plays the flute, Americans usually use flutist. In varieties of English from outside North America, flautist is more common. The web-searchable Canadian-English sample size is too small to be useful, but both words are used to some degree by Canadian writers.

Flutist, from the French flûtiste, is by far the older word in English, and it is not American in origin. The OED lists an example from 1603, though the word remained rare in any form until the early 18th century. It was the preferred form in all varieties of English until the late 19th century, when flautist, which came to English from the Italian flautista early that century, was fully adopted in British English.

If you can’t decide which form to use, flute-player is a noncontroversial alternative.


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Examples

LeBaron’s “Solar Music,” which featured flutist Larry Kaplan and harpist Alison Bjorkedal, is full of striking, emphatic tonal colors. [Los Angeles Times]

But the principal flutist of theChicago Symphony Orchestra had some less than complimentary things to say about the Los Angeles Philharmonic. [New York Times]

A solo flautist played as the delegation returned to their seats in the Ancient Stadium. [London Evening Standard]

He was the product of that constantly imagining mind of Ian Anderson, singer-songwriter, flautist and guitarist of Jethro Tull. [Sydney Morning Herald]

They also had flautist and harmonica player Abbey Cindi, while Bahula was on traditional African drums. [Independent (South Africa)]

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Comments

  1. There seems to be a mix up leading into the last sentence in the second paragraph.

  2. Interesting that you say it’s not American, when the examples show that Americans say flutist and others say flautist.

    That’s a genuine, non-critical comment. It’s interesting!

  3. Gemma Seymour says:

    One supposes that, as an American, one’s usage might depend largely on one’s musical education, or lack thereof. I, myself, have always preferred “flautist”, having been instructed in the traditions of classical music performance.

    • As someone who has pursued a career as a professional flute player and teacher, I spent time researching the history of the flute. I’m inclined to agree with the what Nancy Toff wrote on the subject and prefer flutist.

    • Justin Ranson says:

      My wife, who plays (and majored in) the flute, Dispises the term “flautist”. In her words, “I don’t play the Flaut.” As a former HS band teacher, I never used the term.

      • Wilhelm von Brandenburg says:

        Considering that you are a former high school band teacher, I find it a little distressing that you can’t spell ‘despises’.

        • Justin Ranson says:

          Oh you caught me, I must not know anything because my thumbs don’t always punch the tiny iPhone buttons correctly, and rarely proofread hastily typed posts on a message board. Get a life, and stop trolling posts from 9 months ago.

          • Roger in AZ says:

            I heard exactly what you heard from my Professor on Flute and she has a masters, first chair in the City Symphony. I am very classically trained myself at the master level. I prefer Flutist. My youtube channel is even called Arizona Flutist. It is American in nature. Let’s face it, both terms are technically correct. Neither really is better or worse. I don’t play a flauto (Italian for Flute) I play a flute. I got trolled on youtube for this and that is what brought me here as I researched into the correct naming. I had it right all along I see. :)

  4. Lauren Ann Read Koslow says:

    From the late ’80s to early ’00s in NJ school systems, it was invariably “flautist.”

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