I know that the pronoun "en" is usually used to replace a prepositional phrase of "de" + a noun. However, what does it mean without any context? I'm trying to comprehend the following phrase from an essay named "Le vin et le lait" by Roland Barthes:

on sait que l’un des mythes propres à l’intellectuel moderne, c’est l’obsession « d’en avoir »

What kind of obsession does the modern intellectual have?

2 Answers 2


What Barthes says is that modern intellectuals try to be "real men" (and not men who can only think and never act) so they do "real men" things, i.e. drink wine. "En avoir" actually refers back to "virilité naturelle" and means "to have balls". Excuse the French...

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    @dimid: The purpose is to distantiate oneself from the crudeness of the expression. Dec 5, 2017 at 21:01
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    It is not a possibility. That is what he means. He does what he says intellectuals did to bridge the gap between them and the working class in '68.
    – user45784
    Dec 5, 2017 at 21:55
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    use a crude expression,same as drinking wine like the working class
    – user45784
    Dec 6, 2017 at 7:29
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    @Lambie "en avoir" definitely means "having balls" without a referent for "en", and the use of "en"is a way to avoid saying "balls". One can also say "en avoir dans le pantalon". Dec 6, 2017 at 12:31
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    if you look at this quote in the full context, it becomes clear that en avoir is having balls: the preceding sentence clearly says wine is a way to manliness for intellectuals. So the hint at balls definitely makes sense. En avoir is a very common phrase for "having balls". Why would Barthes not be allowed to use it ?
    – Greg
    Dec 6, 2017 at 14:25

When asking about EN, you have to provide context or the antecedent. So I have taken the liberty of doing so:

[...]le vin le délivrera des mythes, lui ôtera de son intellectualité, l'égalera au prolétaire; par le vin, l'intellectuel s'approche d'une virilité naturelle, et pense ainsi échapper à la malédiction qu'un siècle et demi de romantisme continue à faire peser sur la cérébralité pure (on sait que l'un des mythes propres à l'intellectuel moderne, c'est l'obsession «d'en avoir»).

avoir de followed by an uncountable noun becomes EN if you refer back to it: for example, avoir du lait, avoir de la peine, avoir de la cérébalité pure. If you remove the noun, the pronoun that replaces it is EN.

The en pronoun refers back to "cérébalité pure" or pure cerebrality. For milk, the EN would be translated as: to have some [of it]. And here, to have some also. Only not milk, but rather some of that pure cerebrality.

Kindly note: Since the word is Latin based and in English, we have the same adjective as in French, I am coining the word in English as Barthes did in French.

[...] on sait que l'un des mythes propres à l'intellectuel moderne, c'est l'obsession «d'en avoir»

[...] we know that one of the myths proper to the modern intellectual is an obsession with "having some" of this. [You can leave off the of this if that seems better to you.]

Barthes' text called Le Vin et Le Lait

  • Merci beaucoup, what is the purpose of the quotes here? I.e why is it «d'en avoir» instead of just d'en avoir?
    – dimid
    Dec 5, 2017 at 19:46
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    Well, given the text, he is being sarcastic. By putting it in quotes he is suggesting it is a quasi-physical object that you can "have" [as in get or own]. This is just my own opinion. The text is about wine or milk, both of which you can have, as in have in your fridge or cupboard. It's rather amusing. Like a thing you get from a supermarket shelf. In other words, a commodity.
    – Lambie
    Dec 5, 2017 at 19:53
  • I may be wrong and Stéphane is probably right. That was, however, not my first reading.
    – Lambie
    Dec 5, 2017 at 22:11

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