Editor's Note: After we first published this story we received reader feedback about the term's derivation and use in pop culture. We've updated the story to reflect those additional details.
(CNN)Shannon was used to her socially awkward son being bullied by other boys at the private school he attends in Atlanta.
But when she picked him up from school in mid-January and her eighth grader told her he was being called a "simp," Shannon, who's only using her first name to protect her son's identity, didn't know what to think.
"He's telling me this and I'm driving and I'm trying to make sense of it," she said. "I'd never heard the word."
"He told me, 'It basically means that I'm just being nice to girls because I like them,'" she said. "I was like, wait, my kid is being picked on for being nice to girls?"
Her son had told her he'd recently been put in the "friend zone" by one of the girls, who made it clear she wasn't interested in dating him. They had continued to be friendly.
"You do all these things as a parent to raise your kid right, to be nice to everyone, especially kids without many friends," Shannon said. "And you never think that by making your kid the nice one you could be making them a target for bullies."
What is a simp?
While many parents might be unfamiliar with the word "simp," chances are your tween or teen has used or at least heard the term.
Simp hashtags are rampant on TikTok. Instagram has over 350,000 posts tagged #simp and there are Facebook groups devoted to simps and simping (it can be a verb, too).
Depending on who you talk to, there is some debate on the word's current usage and how much (if at all) it has evolved over time. While simp's way-back origins are connected to the word "simpleton," its current usage is linked to West Coast American rappers like Too Short, who first used it in the mid-1980s in a way that denotes the opposite of "pimp" in his song "Pimpology."
In 1992, Boyz II Men released a song called "Sympin' Ain't Easy," using a different spelling of the word and evoking frustrated yearning.
Urban Dictionary's top definition of a simp is "someone who does way too much for a person they like." Other definitions on the crowdsourced online dictionary include "a man who puts the hoes before the bros," and "a guy that is overly desperate for women, especially if she is a bad person, or has expressed her disinterest in him whom which he continues to obsess over."
"'Simp' is slang for a person (typically a man) who is desperate for the attention and affection of someone else (typically a woman)," said Connor Howlett, 23, a digital strategist for Turner PR in New York City, in an email to CNN.
"Think the energy of puppy dog eyes but manifested in a romantic, human form," Howlett said. "It's used in an insulting manner. Though typically playful, there are definitely undertones of toxic masculinity since it's related to showing too much emotion."
Florida mother Karen McClung first encountered the word in group chats she closely monitors with her 11-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son.
"I saw the word and quickly looked it up," said McClung, who lives in Tampa. "I asked my kids what they thought it meant and my son said, 'It's basically if you had $1,000 and you could do anything with it, you'd use it to get the attention of a girl — then everyone would make fun of you."
"I blocked the thread," McClung said.
While she said her