While I don't agree with Steve Dallas about the cause of linguistic sloppiness, I can empathize with his frustration. Everywhere, it seems, terms that once had specific, narrow meanings are broadened and, frankly, made much less interesting or useful. For instance, the word "bungalow." It used to be that this word meant only a one or one-and-a-half story dwelling with large overhanging eaves and a sizeable front porch, usually with a dormer of varying size and shape. But just in the last couple of weeks, I have seen it (wrongly) applied to houses that might more accurately be called "cottages"--no eaves to speak of, no front porch, no dormers.
Or what about "capri pants"? This term used to refer exclusively to pants cropped about halfway between the widest part of the calf and the ankle (didn't it?). Pants cropped just below the knee were "clam diggers"; "pedal pushers" had another discrete meaning. But now pants of any length between the bottom of the knee and the top of the ankle are "capri pants." Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.
That's not all that's sticking in my craw these days, though. Just a couple of weeks ago, the New Yorker used the wrong one of the affect/effect noun pair. And it was in an article in the body of the magazine (the piece about Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier), not in a Talk of the Town piece, which I find sometimes less carefully edited. Grrr.