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The problem with "screen real estate" isn't the "real estate" bit, it's the "screen" bit. People should just say "real estate", everyone knows what they mean. Also people should say "sequel" for "SQL".
As UI builders, we have to communicate with users. The first step in that communication is using vocabulary they understand. Most people understand the term real estate to mean a space with designated boundaries. It's therefore not much of a stretch to use screen real estate to refer to areas on the screen. Software developers who don't develop UI have a long, vicious tradition of using terminology that confuses users in a pathetic attempt to boost their own flaccid egos. </pedantic>
Because people don't understand the etymology of "real estate", so they say it like it's one word, which applies equally to anything taking up any kind of space, or anything valuable, or anything you have to pay through the nose for.
It's very geeky to give a technical answer when somebody's trying to be funny. Sigh.