late 14c., in grammar, "expressing something small or little," from Old French diminutif (14c.) and directly from Latin diminutivus, earlier deminutivus, from deminut-, past-participle stem of deminuere "lessen, diminish," from de- "completely" (see de-) + minuere "make small" (from PIE root *mei- (2) "small"). Meaning "small, little, narrow, contracted" is from c. 1600.
As a noun, in grammar, late 14c., "derivative word denoting a small or inferior example of what is meant by the word it is derived from." Related: Diminutively; diminutiveness.