What is a 'simp?' Gen Z's new favorite slang term has a long, bizarre history

Dillon Thompson
·5 min read

What is a simp? Am I simp? Is any of this a bad thing?

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time on TikTok (or just about any social media platform) in 2020, it’s possible you’ve asked yourself all of these questions.

The fact is, you might use the word yourself and still not know where it comes from. That’s because “simp,” like so much of internet slang, is used very fluidly. What’s more: The word also has a strange, complicated history — one that spans hip-hop, toxic masculinity and strangely, the Roaring ’20s.

What is a simp? And what is simping?

According to Urban Dictionary, a simp is “someone who does way too much for a person they like.” Unfortunately, the Oxford English Dictionary has not decided to weigh in on simping yet, so Urban Dictionary is the highest authority we have.

Still, even that simple definition is pretty comprehensive. In essence, a simp is someone who sucks up, schmoozes or otherwise fawns over another person — typically a person they’re interested in romantically.

Simping, meanwhile, is a verb describing the action of being a simp. The word’s top entry on Urban Dictionary uses this conversation as an example:

Friend: “I’m gonna have to leave this game, I want to see what Anne is doing right now.”

The Bois: “You’re simping bro.”

Here, the guy leaving the game is simping for his girlfriend — but the dynamic isn’t always like this. Simping can also be used to describe people who are sucking up to a person they like, even when those feelings aren’t reciprocated.

In that context, it’s helpful to think of simping as being to Gen Z what friend-zoning was to millennials. It’s a term that describes an allegedly unbalanced relationship between two people, often where only one person has romantic feelings for the other.

Where did the word ‘simp’ come from?

You might be surprised to know that simping is almost 100 years old.

Well, at least some version of it is. For example, the New York Times reported that the term was first used in its pages in 1923. Back then, the word, short for “simpleton,” was an insulting way to call someone stupid.

That meaning transformed over time, though, thanks in a large part to hip-hop music. According to the New York Times, West Coast rapper Too Short was using “simp” in his music all the way back in 1985. The emcee told the paper that “it still means the same thing” today as it meant back then.

From there, the word popped up in tracks across the rap spectrum, almost always serving as an insult for someone who was overly eager for their romantic interest. UGK used the term in 2001, Pimp C used it in 2006 and Anderson .Paak sang about it 2015, just to name a few.

“Look me in my eye, there’ll be no simping,” .Paak sings on his 2015 track, “Suede.” The lyric shows up in the song’s chorus, where .Paak is telling a woman about the kind of relationship he’d like to have — implying that he won’t simp for her.

How did ‘simp’ become a major slang term on TikTok?

Fast forward a few more years, and simping is everywhere. As with almost any trend in 2020, TikTok had a lot to do with that.

Videos using the #simp hashtag have drawn more than 3.7 billion views on the app, thanks in large part to a series of videos posted in late 2019. Those clips, many of which were posted by TikToker Marco Borghi, welcomed viewers to “Simp Nation.”

Simp Nation” quickly became its own meme, as (mostly male) TikTokers posted videos with captions that described apparent simping behaviors. Examples include: “If she keeps calling herself ugly for compliments and you give them without hesitation,” and “If you ever did a girl’s homework because she ‘didn’t have time’ to do it.”

These videos were meant as jokes, but they were also hyper-masculine and at least somewhat misogynist — both for reinforcing normative gender roles (in this meme, guys simp for girls) and for presenting “nice guys” as being “soft” or weak.

Is simping a bad thing?

In its original form on TikTok, simping was a pretty loaded term. Videos like the “Simp Nation” memes portray simping is something to be avoided at all costs, which, while sometimes funny, also encourages some problematic behaviors.

Lately, TikTokers have managed to reclaim the word, thanks to new memes and video formats that present simping in a new light. One example is the “Simp Nation Theme Song,” an original audio that’s been widely used by female TikTokers to praise their “simp” boyfriends.

Meanwhile, male users have embraced the term as a compliment, posting videos of the kind things they do for their significant others. In a particularly hilarious video, a TikTok user named @mmmmighty crochets a top for his girlfriend while calling himself a simp.

Viral clips like these have helped broaden the word’s usage. It’s no longer just an insult, and it no longer only applies to guys. In fact, the word has become so vague that it would make totally perfect sense to say something like: “I totally simp for Chipotle’s Sofritas bowl” (Note: This writer does in fact simp for vegetarian Tex-Mex).

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