hurst

Neighbourhoods and plan-built towns are often named for what was deleted from the landscape so the ticky-tacky could be tucked and stacked all over it instead. Occasionally they name things that were never really there but that the developer would like people to think of as they ramble through the empty intestinal streets lined with lawns and garages and picture windows and vinyl sidings and garnished with parsley hedges and trees stuck into the green like so many birthday candles. And some of the developers’ favourite morphemes for the morphed geomorphology are bits of words seldom seen elsewhere.

Hurst is one such. Many a neighbourhood that hurts the hillscape has had this overrehearsed syllable thrust upon it. Pinehurst, Hillhurst, Woodhurst, Bensonhurst, Deerhurst, Beechhurst, Lakehurst, Millhurst, Stonehurst, Sandhurst, Oakhurst… Just about anything you can attach vale or dale to in a neighbourhood name can come to have a hurst on it instead.

Which is not to say that a hurst is like a vale or a dale. In fact, it’s the converse. It is not a dip down in the landscape but an upthrust. It’s a hill or knoll, either sandy or covered in trees. A sandhurst is thus a kind of hurst, while a hillhurst is really more of a redundancy. Or, sometimes, a double irony – in Calgary, Hillhurst is a neighbourhood in the valley along the Bow River, one of the lowest-lying parts of a very hilly city. (Well, OK, at its northern end, above Riley Park, it creeps up onto the heights to include the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology; by that technicality it is not as low and flat as its neighbours, Sunnyside to the east and West Hillhurst to the west.)

Hurst comes to us from old Germanic roots and has cognates in other Germanic languages. In English it remains as a nearly forgotten bit of the lexical geography, a word form largely ridden over and unnoticed, like the land beneath the streets that have spread like mold across the tawny foothills of Calgary. But it is not hearsed yet; it remains alive parasitically, a little verbal caboose – or a footnote, ready to be looked up by those who thirst for more.

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