The Words of Poly-Olbion

Fraser Buchanan

The words in Poly-Olbion have a distinctive vibrancy. Michael Drayton in the poem, and also John Selden in the ‘Illustrations’, often use terms that appear nowhere else in recorded English. Sometimes Drayton, in particular, is deliberately esoteric and chooses an obscure word for the sake of its obscurity, yet often there is a clear logic to the way he manipulates language so that a reader will instantly know what his new words mean. Above all, Drayton appears to enjoy naming things and in a poem that sees him making exhaustive lists of places, animals and geographical features, it seems inevitable that if there is not already a word for something, Drayton will invent it. Here we want briefly to explore some of the words that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) attributes either to Drayton or Selden.