When I was a kid, I learnt at school that 'piuttosto che' was used as follows

"Piuttosto che venire con voi me ne sto a casa",

whose meaning was 'instead of', a contrast between two mutual excluding items.

Over time my feeling is that the meaning was changing and the expression 'piuttosto che' took the meaning of 'oppure', in the inclusive sense of the conjunction (inclusive or, meaning one or the other, but also both of the items).

So in this sense it is nowadays very common to hear things like

"Essi si trovano a Roma piuttosto che a Milano",

where the meaning would be "they go to Rome or to Milan or to both of the cities".

According to Treccani and Accademia della Crusca, it is an improper usage.

I personally do not like this usage and my idea is that it seems to be an import/export operation from the English language. Indeed 'rather than' translation is 'anziché', but the direct translation is 'piuttosto che', now used also in Italian with the meaning of 'anziché' ('oppure').

My question is: Is this usage theory supported in some way?

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    It is a horrible distortion invented by some consulting companies based in Milan. Then it spread nationwide like a disease. – gd1 May 17 '14 at 20:43

The question is about the current usage of the conjunction.

It concerns the usage of piuttosto che, originally intended as the Latin aut (the exclusive or) in the meaning of the Latin vel (the inclusive or).

I agree, and my opinion seems to be supported by what the two sources you refer to say, that this second usage is completely incorrect. That's because it leads to an unresolved ambiguity and there is no reason why it should be used like this. The inclusive or could indeed be expressed by other means.

As the Crusca says, this usage is starting to be very popular (it also says it comes from television speech). To me, it sounds like you use it in the “vel“ sense if you want to sound intellectual and you are not (this means that you don't really know the original meaning).

It's actually a very interesting linguistic phenomenon, provided it will become the majority usage (overcoming the original one), because popular culture can modify the overall language. For the time being, I don't feel like using ‘piuttosto che’ in the second sense, because I was taught the original one and didn't forget it.

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Even though I completely agree that this usage is erroneous, it's an interesting question about how and why this usage has started.
There are several studies on the topic, most of them listed here. In particular, Carla Bazzanella e Mirella Cristofori, "Piuttosto che e le alternative non preferenziali. Un mutamento in atto?", Cuadernos de Filología Italiana, 1998, 5, 267-278, state the following:

Come affermano Mondadori e D’Agostino (1997,3.1): «A volte, affermando P oppure Q intendiamo affermare non solo che almeno una tra P e Q é vera, ma anche che non sono entrambe.» In questo caso, che si avvicina all’uso in questione di piuttosto che, possiamo anche ravvisare un esempio di quello che Palazzi-Folena regista come seconda entrata per oppure: «2. o anche: puoi trovarlo in quel negozio oppure in quello di fronte. » Se sostituissimo infatti in questo esempio oppure con piuttosto che ci troveremmo di fronte ad un esempio simile a quelli riportati: puoi trovarlo in quel negozio piuttosto che in quello di fronte.
Ci teniamo a dichiarare esplicitamente che al nostro orecchio continua a sembrare un comportamento anomalo, e che se noi proferissimo: puoi trovarlo in quel negozio piuttosto che in quello di fronte, nel nostro idioletto indicheremmo che le possibilità di reperimento di quel dato oggetto sono molto più alte nel primo negozio citato che non in quello di fronte. II contesto linguistico serve però, come negli esempi citati, ad indicare un alto uso di piuttosto che, appunto di «introduttore neutro di alternative divergenti» ma presentate come paritarie o, più in generale, di segnalare una molteplicità di possibilità.

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This is more and more common and it drives me crazy. I would not use it but it is useful to know that some speakers might be using it in the wrong way.

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    Welcome to Italian Language! Here at StackExchange we expect users to provide reasonably long and detailed answer, which feature both facts (preferably sourced) and opinions: for an example of a good answer, look at the one martina gave. – Giulio Muscarello Aug 12 '14 at 11:06
  • @GiulioMuscarello sorry. It was not clear what the question was. So I tried to give an advice on the use of the word: don't use it as inclusive or but be aware that some use it exactly that way. – giuper Aug 12 '14 at 17:56

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