You say ukuleleist; I say ukulelist.
December 8, 2011 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Question for the language types: which is correct, ukuleleist, or ukulelist?

I play ukulele. That makes me a ukulele player, but these days (and especially for the female gender) that immediately brings to mind cutesy stuff like Kate Micucci or Danielle Ate the Sandwich. Or maybe rockin' stuff like Amanda Palmer. Not that I'm anywhere close, but I identify more with John King.

Anyway. To call Mr. King a ukulele player seems somehow not quite right. His Wikipedia page calls him a ukulelist (dropping the final "e" in ukulele).

Trouble is, this word is not to be found in the OED. A couple of less-than-authoritative online dictionaries - Wiktionary, for example - have ukuleleist, but not ukulelist. However, Google shows more hits/searches for the latter.

So - from a linguistics point of view, which is more correct, ukuleleist, or ukulelist? Personally I think the latter, following the logic of, say, pianist in which the final vowel is dropped.

But then again - one who plays banjo is not generally referred to as a banjist, so there goes that logic.

posted by chez shoes to Society & Culture (19 answers total)
A couple of less-than-authoritative online dictionaries - Wiktionary, for example - have ukuleleist, but not ukulelist. However, Google shows more hits/searches for the latter.

Wiktionary has ukulelist.
posted by empath at 8:46 AM on December 8, 2011

The cool kids at band camp called my daughter Ukulady. You can use that, if you like.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:48 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thanks empath, a fellow ukulele player told me it only had the other variation and I took them at their word. Whoops.

Maybe it's the library scientist in me, but I'm not really okay with Wiktionary as an authoritative source, as anybody can edit it.

If any of the linguists who hang out here can offer further enlightenment, please do. Thanks!
posted by chez shoes at 8:50 AM on December 8, 2011

The OED has neither. There is no approved term for a ukelele player. OED is god!

More helpfully, I suspect either is OK, although neither very appealing. Ukeleler flows a bit better than either, in my opinion.

Ukelelady or ukelelad (as per MrMoonPie) is pretty awesome, too.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:50 AM on December 8, 2011

Mr. Moonpie, I appreciate the input, but that's exactly the opposite of what I'm trying to convey - not what the "cool kids" would say, but what an academic would say to imply a serious musician whose instrument of choice just happens to be ukulele.
posted by chez shoes at 8:51 AM on December 8, 2011

Ukulele Underground discussion.
posted by empath at 8:52 AM on December 8, 2011

Empath, I started that discussion but came over here since it was getting nowhere (although it's highly entertaining if one is a ukulele player!).
posted by chez shoes at 8:53 AM on December 8, 2011

A good friend (who is seldom to be found without the instrument in hand) refers to himself as a "ukist."
posted by jbickers at 9:02 AM on December 8, 2011

Since neither choice is "official" English, I would suggest you go with the one that sounds more pleasing to you. For me, that would be ukulelist. The extra vowel sound in ukuleleist would sound clumsy.

Myself? I say "I play ukulele."

Do you know any academics you could reach out to, since you're specifically interested in how they would describe someone who plays ukulele? Perhaps you could find an email address of a music professor?
posted by owtytrof at 9:07 AM on December 8, 2011

I should clarify that this would be in a written, rather than spoken, context, in case that makes a difference.

Owtytrof, I actually have emailed a scholar whose word I would consider final, but haven't gotten a response yet. Not sure if I'm being ignored, of if he's just a very busy man.

In everyday speech, I would say "I play ukulele" as well (rather than "I'm a ukulelist"). But in a written context I'm not sure what approach to take. If for example the aforementioned John King played piano, I would write "classical pianist John King." But he played ukulele. "Classical ukulele player John King" looks, to my eye anyway, far less... serious.
posted by chez shoes at 9:19 AM on December 8, 2011

Ukulele Underground provides suggestions, if not guidance. My favorite is "ukulelian", which I will now use to describe myself. (But probably not John King)
posted by MtDewd at 10:06 AM on December 8, 2011

MtDewd, I linked to that old UU thread in my post over there. Highly entertaining to read, but as with my more recent query, nothing ever was resolved.

My favorite was "dog torturer" - replace dog with cat, and some nights that would describe my playing pretty accurately :)
posted by chez shoes at 10:15 AM on December 8, 2011

All due credit to OED, but it's not the final arbiter on what is and is not a word. Usage is. Any OED editor (or any other dictionary editor) will tell you that.

In Google books, both words are rare but ukulelist is quite a bit more common. Given that books tend to have undergone some kind of formal editing process, that's a pretty good guide on safe usage.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:40 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks Mo Nickels, I had already checked Google hit counts and Adwords and your observation further confirms what I found - nearly twice as many results for -list over -leist - but yours has a bit more authority to back it up. Not to mention it's in line with my personal preference, so for now, I'm going with -list.

Please keep the responses coming...
posted by chez shoes at 10:44 AM on December 8, 2011

Instruments that end in E:

Oboe - oboist
Bagpipe - bagpipist
Flute - flutist
Saxophone - saxophonist
Trombone - trombonist
posted by TheGoodBlood at 12:02 PM on December 8, 2011

TheGoodBlood, I thought that same thing then I realized all ot those end in silent E.
posted by chez shoes at 12:14 PM on December 8, 2011

Well, piano has a pronounced final vowel, and we still say "pianist." Likewise violist, cellist, and piccolist. Oh, and timpanist, which is the only instrument I can think of off-hand that ends in an "ee" sound like ukulele. So sou don't have to get the final vowel in the name. There's no rule.

Ukulelist is more common, I'd go with that. There's not going to be some definitive right answer.
posted by mskyle at 12:40 PM on December 8, 2011

Linguist popping in here to say that linguistics doesn't have any Right and True Answer to give you, only the sort of perspective Mo Nickels has already offered. That's because linguistics describes and explains language in its attested form. I could try to come up with a theoretical reason to predict that one form or the other would be attested, but the prediction would be considered a failure if it didn't jibe with what people actually call a ukulele player.
posted by ootandaboot at 1:58 PM on December 8, 2011

I came here to say what Mo Nickels did. Neither is more "correct" than the other, so use ukulelist, since it's more common and it appeals to you.
posted by languagehat at 2:54 PM on December 8, 2011

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