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Now the VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories.

Today’s the word is “belittle”. It was first used by Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. Many years ago, a French naturalist the C.F., wrote some books about natural history. The books won a great success, even though some critics did not like them. Some critics said C.F. is more of a poet than a scientist. Thomas Jefferson did not like what the C. said about the natural wonders of the new world. It seems to Jefferson that the C.F. had gone out of his way to speak of natural wanders in American as if they were unimportant. This troubled Thomas Jefferson. He too, was a naturalist, as well as a farmer, inventor, historian, writer, and politician. He had seen the natural wanders of Europe. To him, they were no more important than those of the new world.
In 1788, Thomas Jefferson wrote about his home state, Virginia. While writing he thought of its natural beauty, and then of the words of C.F. At that moment, Jefferson created a new word “belittle”, he said the C.F believes that Nature belittles her productions on this side of the Atlantic.
Noah Webster, the American word expert liked this word. He put it in his English language dictionary in 1806: “Belittle, to make small, unimportant.” Americans had already accepted Jefferson’s word, and started to use it. In 1797, the independent Cronical newspaper used the word to describe a politician the paper supported, "He is an honorable man," the paper wrote, “So let the opposition try to belittle him as the much as they please.” In 1844, the Republican Sentinel of Virginia wrote this about the opposition party: “The Whigs may attend to belittle our candidates that is a favorite game of theirs.” In 1872, a famous American word expert decided that the time had come to kill this word. He said: “Belittle has no chance of becoming English, and there is more critical writers of America like those Britain feel no need of it, the sooner it is forgotten the better. This expert failed to kill the word, today belittle is used not only in the United States and England, but in other country where the English language is spoken. It seems that efforts to belittle the word did not stop people from using it.
You have been listening to the VOA special English program Words and Their Stories. I am Warren Sheer.
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