How ‘Simp’ Went From Sexist Insult to Self-Deprecating Pet Name

Once a misogynistic acronym, TikTok has transformed the term into — almost — a badge of honor

The absolute last word I’d use to describe my pussy is “mediocre.” “Magnificent” could work. I’d even prefer “monstrous” to an adjective implying my genitals are completely forgettable. Yet, across the internet, but particularly on TikTok, Gen Z people of all genders are confidently claiming their genitals to be mediocre or asserting their desire for mediocre genitals each time they refer to themselves as a “simp.” 

Unless, of course, we’ve managed to move on from the original meaning of simp entirely. 

In fall 2019, “simp” began to creep its way back into mainstream culture. Originally an acronym for “someone/sucka idolizing mediocre pussy” coined in 1990s hip hop and popularized by Three 6 Mafia, to be a simp was to overvalue a woman, to give her special treatment in hopes of sex. It was misogynist in its roots, implying that a woman’s worth was tied to her vagina. Up until recently, that misogyny persisted: According to the incels and men’s rights groups of Reddit, anyone who treated women with a semblance of respect was a simp. As use of the term began to spread among teen boys and young men on TikTok, those core values remained largely the same, though colored more by immaturity than hate. Then, somewhere over the winter months, there was a shift. 

A search for #simp on TikTok yields the following videos, among several thousand others: A young man stares at his heavily pregnant girlfriend as Drake’s “Best I Ever Had” plays with the caption “imma simp for her”; a young woman offers tips on “how to get a fuckboy to simp for you,” like waiting several hours to text someone back; a young man lays on his girlfriend’s stomach while she pats his head and films them together, playing an audio clip of someone saying, “This is a public service announcement: Welcome to Simp Nation.” 

In each, “simp” loses its original association with “mediocre pussy.” In fact, across the hashtag, women refer to the people who like them as simps. It seems to have taken on an entirely new meaning, detached from the acronym. 

“I feel like I’m seeing it in super innocent ways, especially with young queer people saying, ‘I’m simping for blank,’” says Grace Kuhlenschmidt, a comedian whose response video, titled “Questions for the Gays,” went viral in early June. (In the original questions video, a girl asks, “Are you simping right now?” Grace responds with, “I don’t believe or listen to women, so who cares.”) 

“I’m mostly seeing it on TikTok like when kids are talking about their crush,” Kuhlenschmidt tells me. When I first spoke to her, though, Kuhlenschmidt wasn’t actually aware of the original meaning of the acronym. “I wouldn’t have guessed that was the original meaning. It kind of upsets me just because it’s super harsh. I thought it was like a computer software term.” 

But just because Kuhlenschmidt didn’t know the acronym doesn’t mean her interpretation of the word is wrong — in fact, her interpretation is probably a more accurate version of what it means to simp today than the acronym. She’s also far from alone: When I ask my 20-year-old cousin what the word meant, her answer is similar. “It means acting baby-like or sweet for someone you like,” she tells me. 

Rather than being chained to misogynistic ideas about women’s worth, today’s simp is linked only with the light sense of embarrassment or weakness of having a crush. Like “wimp,” simp seems to be associated with vulnerability — perhaps the “idolizing” aspect persists, but the “mediocre pussy” meaning has been detached. 

There are some circles of TikTok and Gen Z where the usage of the word still hints at its original meaning, but not entirely. Often, this only appears as a joke: TikToker @polo.boyy has multiple videos offering examples of what makes someone a simp, like wearing a nice outfit to school and hoping your crush notices only for them to be absent. His editing style and strained facial expressions, however, reveal that these scenarios are mostly in jest. As the common usage of the phrase “Welcome to Simp Nation” implies, the person saying “welcome” is a member themselves. 

But even in videos like those created by @polo.boyy, the implied shame is centered on that of the one displaying emotion, rather than the one that emotion is displayed toward. It’s this shift in particular that explains why young women desire to be the object of a simp’s affection: It’s not at all that they have a “mediocre pussy,” but that they make someone vulnerable and sensitive. Without ever explaining what simp means, viewers of these TikToks have transformed its definition based on context cues alone. 

So, despite representing a blatant misuse of AAVE, at very least its current form marks a transformation of the simp from a term that devalues women as sex organs to, essentially, a wimpy pet name among teens. Though it might still be an insult toward the people labeled as simps, its broader implications about women have been removed: It’s no longer an acronym, but a noun and occasional verb. You can be a simp for someone you’ve never had sex with. People without vaginas can have someone be simping for them. 

Perhaps it’s dated to care about the original acronym at all, like a parent anxiously trying to decode their teen’s text messages to their friends when they search through their phone. The majority of its current users are likely unaware of its decades-long past. But even if its meaning has changed, the word didn’t simply materialize from nothing, and it wasn’t very long ago that it was primarily used by incels to hatefully describe contemporary dating dynamics. 

Like countless other words once used to insult and oppress, simp could be reclaimed by its targets, but it’s important, too, not to forget its history.