From ‘New JC name lacks local relevance, historical context’, 31 Dec 15, ST Forum
(Estella Young): The choice of an obscure word of Greek origin for the name of Singapore’s newest junior college suggests that despite our year-long SG50 extravaganza to honour Singapore’s history, we still have so little confidence in our ethnic roots that we uncritically look West for grand and noble concepts (“Get your tongue around Eunoia, the newest JC“; yesterday).
I certainly appreciate Greece’s historical and philosophical contributions to human civilisation.
But Asia – where Singapore is located, and from where most of its citizens hail – is similarly rich in achievements and in cultural depth.
Instead of importing an esoteric word from a country more than 9,000km away – which the Bible uses, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, to allude to sexual relations – could the Ministry of Education (MOE) not have found a more familiar one rooted in Sanskrit, Tamil, Chinese or Malay?
Asian cultures do not lack words for personal virtues, achievement, or the pursuit of knowledge.
As it stands, Eunoians are likely to be nicknamed “Eunnoyances” or “Eunuchs” by rival schools (“Eunoia JC? Please rethink the name“; ST Online, yesterday).
At first glance ‘eunoia’ looks like the scientific name of a wildflower, or one of the moons of Saturn. It’s tedious on the tongue and in written form due to the consecutive vowels. It makes you check twice like how one is careful with words like ‘unctuous’ or ‘bulbous’. Nevermind if it describes something beautiful, the word looks, and sounds awkward. It’s only slightly less esoteric than the singer Prince calling himself in the 90’s.
Despite the ministry issuing a guide to pronouncing Eunoia (yoo-noe-iea) and not ‘you-know-yah’, a Greek language expert asserts that it should be a 4 syllable word ‘Eh-yu-no-ya’ (Eunoia pronounced as four syllables in ancient greek, says language expert, 31 Dec 15, ST) instead. Between MOE and someone who actually speaks the language, my money is on the latter, though the professor isn’t helping the JC and its Eunoians by confirming our initial guess of ‘You Know Yah’, now with the additional ‘EH’ in front. Some other sources say that it should be ‘eff-ni-ah’. At least people won’t argue over the pronunciation of names like ANGSANA Primary School. At least that has ‘local flavour’. Still, why is it we’re OK with naming primary schools after local flora but cringe if we suggest things like ‘Orchid JC’ or ‘Chiku JC’?
But to be fair, calling the new JC ‘Bishan JC’ will bring its own share of criticism, that it lacks originality, or can be abbreviated to ‘BJC’, which will draw some low-brow smirks. Someone else suggested ‘Trinity’ JC, but that sounds too much like an academy for priests, nuns and sorcerers. Unlike hospitals, we don’t usually name schools after billionaire philanthropists these days. So, you know ya, it ain’t easy coming up with a JC name. It’ll be a tough call, though, if the alternative to Eunoia happens to be an equally silly-sounding Merlion JC. In any case, MOE is refusing to budge, and maintains that their pronunciation is correct, nevermind what a Professor of Greek Studies, Aristotle, Paul of the Bible or Zeus, God of Thunder says.
So how did ‘beautiful thinking’ become corrupted into a sexual euphemism in the bible? According to the First Corinthians Bible Commentary, eunoia refers to a spouse’s ‘conjugal duty’ to satisfy the other’s sexual needs. ‘Eu’, the adverb (good, well), combined with ‘noia’ (mind) form the compound word ‘benevolence’. In the context of sex, I would read it as if you’re a ‘good’ husband or wife, you don’t ‘mind’ performing your conjugal duties. It’s ironic that someone would call a Eunoian a Eunuch then.
Curiously enough, the Chairman of the SCGS (part of the Integrated Programme trinity of schools making up EJC) board is named EULEEN Goh. Let’s hope, for the future Eunoians’ sake, that the board has the ‘eunoia’, good mind and benvolence, to change the name and spare their students from the ‘paranoia’ of being mocked by others.