One of the great things about English is the room for new words that do what no existing word can do: artsy, carjacking, detox, email, and so on. When I read Maggie Jackson’s comments about the erosion of attention on Marci Alboher’s blog, I knew it was time to introduce a neologism that I’d like to see quickly become standard English. Conjobulation is the state of having so many projects to do and so many errands to run and so many familial pressures to manage and so many interruptions to recover from that sober individuals can be sitting at a stoplight and suddenly have no idea where they are supposed to be going, that they can be in the middle of a conversation and suddenly have no idea what they are talking about, that they can wake in the middle of the night in a panic but have no idea which problem woke them up.

I’d certainly been conjobulated plenty of times, but was stuck with such mundane and limited descriptions as too busy, stressed, harried, swamped and overwhelmed. Words like inundated, drowning, and snowed under were stretches at best and did not have the right feel. Confounded, crazed, and bewildered are great words, but they don’t communicate the external nature of the pressure.

Then one day a couple of years ago, my wife was driving and discussing a number of “issues” and forgot where she was going. A native Spanish speaker who has lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years, she blurted out that she was conjobulated, and I knew she’d hit upon the perfect word. We have used it successfully ever since – successful in that when one of us says we are conjobulated the other knows precisely what is meant. It certainly captures the erosion of attention and focus that plagues our lives today.

A search on Google has revealed that a couple of others have hit upon this word: here, here, and one I won’t link to, but they don’t seem to have recognized the value of their find. I have added conjobulation to my MS Word dictionary. I suggest you do the same, and I hope you’ll begin using it whenever you get the chance. I’m sure if you use it, even internationally, it will almost always be immediately understood. As soon as I submit this blog post, I’m going to submit conjobulated to the Merriam-Webster Open Dictionary. I hope that some of my favorite language bloggers, such as Dan Santow, John McIntyre, and Language Log, will weigh in on its merit. And any help you can provide – by using it in writing and blogging about it – is appreciated.

By encouraging the adoption of conjobulation, we may actually spur research into how to combat it.

I only hope I’m not too conjobulated to finish this project.

I’ve started The Writing Wiki using MindTouch. The inspiration was creating a style, tips, and links resource for my UC Berkeley Extension students, but everyone is invited. Check it out, register, and contribute if you’d like.

I’ve earned my livelihood primarily as a writer and writing instructor since 1979. Much has changed: styles, tools, vehicles, topics of interest, and who’s willing to pay for writing and how much. A lot hasn’t changed. “A lot” is still two words. We still fight over the serial comma. And the goal for most writing projects is still to deliver the most valuable information clearly in the fewest possible words.

The media continue to play the dominate role in the evolution of our language, enriching it by pulling street speech up into mainstream communication while training us to communicate carelessly and unclearly. Social media is having a significant impact both good and bad on our language and how we communicate, and it has also made the ability to communicate clearly and succinctly more important than ever.

These topics will keep me busy.