The word “flautist” entered my vocabulary when I started listening to Sir James Galway several years ago. It did not seem right to me at the time, because “flutist” was elegant and to the point. Nevertheless I have consistently thrown the term around in conversations since then, owing to its uncanniness and an urge to sound intelligent. However, I must admit I have never felt comfortable using the term.
A few moments ago, I turned to Wikipedia for enlightenment. Apparently, both terms are indeed right, “flautist” being the preferred term in British English, and flutist is “by far the more common choice” in American English. While that still did not resolve it for me, this line put the matter to bed.
… 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.”
As if that were not enough, the next line proved a slam dunk.
In the Flautist or flutist? section in his book Proper Flute Playing, 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.”
Reminds me of an unrelated story…
A farmer in some remote village in England had some trouble with snakes. His many attempts to eradicate the problem resulted in failure. At this time, someone suggested that getting a mongoose might be the answer. That someone had also heard of someone else who had contacted a store in London to buy a mongoose.
So, our man decided to write a letter to the store in question.
My farm is infested with snakes, and I would like to control this problem. Would you please send me two mongooses from your store in exchange for the attached payment?
Somehow that did not sound right. He knew that the plural term for goose was geese, and not gooses. So he started afresh.
My farm is infested with snakes, and I would like to control this problem. Would you please send me two mongeese from your store in exchange for the attached payment?
No sooner did he write this than he realized that this didn’t sound right either. If anything, it sounded worse. He did not want to be thought of as lacking erudition, but felt he had exhausted his options. Surely, there wasn’t another plural term he could think of. But then it came to him.
His final attempt read:
My farm is infested with snakes, and I would like to control this problem. Would you please send me a mongoose from your store in exchange for the attached payment?
P.S.: Please send me one more mongoose.
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