The academy, founded in 1634 by Cardinal Richelieu, is the official gatekeeper of the French language whose members are known as 'the immortals'.
Its mission is to keep the French language pure and it frequently coins new French words to cover newly invented technology, not all of which catch on.
New members of the Academie Française are given a sword (because the pen is mightier than the sword) Photo: AFP
But it also deals with less elevated matters – such as explaining the important difference between salope (slut or bitch) and salaud (bastard).
“Etymologically, a slut is not a female bastard,” the Academie sternly pronounces.
Salope derives from the word sale, meaning dirty, and the hoppe or huppe bird, which carried a reputation for being the grubbiest animal.
Its original sense was for a woman who was dirty or unkempt. The same sense was used in English until relatively recently, when a slut could mean a woman who was untidy or a poor housekeeper.
Over time, however the word in both French and English has acquired a more sexual meaning for a woman with loose morals or “a very vile person worthy of the deepest contempt” as the Academie phrases it.
There is a male version of slut – un salop – which can be seen in literature from 19th century authors such as Flaubert, Maupassant or Verlaine but these days it rarely used.
Salaud, on the other hand, is usually translated as bastard and is derived directly from sale. There is a female version – une salaude – but again it is very rarely used.
Generally, the Academie concludes, it is better to use un salaud for a man and une salope for a woman.
Unless you're trying to make friends with them, obviously, then it's probably better to call them neither.