Q. What instrument does a flautist play?
A. A flute.
Q. Which one of these is not a word in English? Flautist, flutist, flaut, flute.
This, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, among other sources. Flautist, in Wikipedia, did have an interesting anecdote:
“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” and writes, “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.”
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.”
Sir James Galway, OBE, is a virtuoso flute player from Belfast, Northern Ireland, nicknamed “The Man With the Golden Flute.”