belittle (v.)

1781, "to make small, reduce in proportion," from be- + little (v.); first recorded in writings of Thomas Jefferson (and probably coined by him), Jefferson used it in "Notes on the State of Virginia" to characterize the incorrect view promoted by French naturalist Buffon that American species were naturally smaller than European ones, which Jefferson was at pains to refute. ("So far the Count de Buffon has carried this new theory of the tendency of nature to belittle her productions on this side of the Atlantic.") The word was roundly execrated in England:
Belittle! What an expression! It may be an elegant one in Virginia, and even perfectly intelligible; but for our part, all we can do is to guess at its meaning. For shame, Mr. Jefferson! ["European Magazine and London Review," 1787; to guess was considered another Yankee barbarism]
The figurative sense of "depreciate, scorn as worthless" (as the reviewers did to this word) is from 1797 and is now almost the only sense. Related: Belittled; belittling.