Nobel Prize winner Jules Hoffman was recently selected to become an immortal, beating out eight other fancy French candidates in a secret vote held last week.
Unfortunately, the "immortal" thing is neither as cool nor as insane as it appears at first glance. That's just the term used to describe members of L'Académie française, the body officially charged with defining and maintaining the standards of the French language.
Hoffman, whose Nobel Prize win was the subject of some controversy after a colleague claimed Hoffman took credit for much of his work, was awarded a much-coveted seat in the Academy upon the death of scholar and author Jacqueline de Romilly. De Romilly died this past December either of old age (she was 97) or of a stake through the heart (she was an immortal).
Previous members of the Academy have included scientist Louis Pasteur and Vichy France's Chief of State Philippe Pétain. (Though most immortals hold their seats for life, Pétain was forced to relinquish his following the whole cooperating-with-Nazis débâcle.)
While the Academy's rulings on what is and is not considered kosher within the confines of the French language are not binding on either the public or the government, it does publish a definitive dictionary and give 40 (mostly elderly) French citizens something to do with their time.
In honor of this story, here is a fun linguistic fact:
The letter "w" appears in French only in foreign words that have been borrowed into the language.
Par exemple: "le week-end" (in English: "the weekend").