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ANDY OFFUTT IRWIN: The Root of Piroot
Andy Irwin
Andy Irwin

WARNING: This piece contains a deep dive into etymology and a bit of physics – all in order to gain a greater understanding of decorative pillows.

Now, you and I both know that pillows exist to help our heads and bodies withstand the rigors of gravity.  

But decorative pillows that cover up a bed are merely taking up space.

This past spring, I was visiting my sister Sally in Apollo Beach, Florida.  Sally is a retired Realtor® who has “staged” many a house. She is an avid reader of Southern Living, Coastal Living, Haute Living, and other such Living publications designed to guide her taste.

Therefore, her guest bed is suffocated with decorative pillows.

What is the proper pillow-relocation etiquette when it is time for a traveling visitor to retire within the confines of a guest room? My quarters had a tiny antique ladder-back chair, much too small to accommodate the thirteen decorative pillows my sister had arranged on the bed. I was reduced to stacking those pillows neatly on the floor.

I generally travel with one guitar in a hard case, but on this trip, in order to practice for my role in a Shakespeare play, I also brought along a fake Renaissance lute which is confined in a soft-sided case. When it came time for me to leave my sister’s house, I stripped the bed – as one does – and stacked the pillows next to the lute in that soft padded case, which I suppose found kinship with the actual pillows; it cozied up with them and the pillows piled on, as it were. 

Out of sight is out of mind. 

When I departed my sister’s place in Florida, I drove to the North Georgia Mountain town of Young Harris where I was to perform a concert the following night.

My presenters had lodged me at a lakeside resort where I practiced the stories and songs in preparation for the concert. After a while, I turned my thoughts to the Shakespearian music I needed to go over – the material requiring the lute – when I was struck with that dreaded left-the-toddler-at-the-gas-station kind of feeling; I guessed that the lute was still in Florida.

“My, my, what an inconvenience,” I declared. 

Just to make sure that I had indeed abandoned that instrument, I struck out on the journey to my car. I say journey because, well, as my buddy, the storyteller Bil Lepp is quoted as saying, “The more stars a hotel has, the further you have to walk from your car to your room.”

Indeed, the lute wasn’t in my car. I shook my fist, looked skyward, and exclaimed, “Drat and dread!” 

As long as I had gone to the trouble of making my way to the car, I figured I might as well go on a hike. I reached for my boots which I thought to be on the floor behind the passenger seat, but they weren’t there. I had been on the road for three weeks, so I confess, my automobile wasn’t so tidy. (My son would quickly chime in that it is never tidy.) I was rifling through the car, moving around sound gear and detritus when I heard my mother’s voice speaking from beyond the veil. “What are you pirooting around for?”


“Pirooting around” is the term my mama Tootsie employed when I was a kid whenever I was hunting for a thing in the piles of objects throughout our house.  

After I located my boots and laced them on, I phoned my sister Sally to ask her to find that lute and remove it from the sedentary influence of the pillows.  Then I asked her, “Do you remember Toots using the term, ‘pirooting around?’”

She said, “Yeah. I thought pirooting was a Toots-made-up word.” (Those do exist.)

I agreed, “So do I.”

When I hung up with Sally, I began to hunt for the word on my Swiss Army phone. If I don’t know how to spell a word, I begin with the most fun possibility.

•   •   •

When I was a child, I sort of anthropomorphized – brought to life – each letter of the alphabet. In my mind, I created a Society of the Alphabet. Truth be told, I still see letters that way. 

SO… in my Alphabet Society, there is a competition between the letters i and Y.  Please note the relative choices of the case I have given each letter. 

With the small case i,  the dot makes it fun! 

With the Y... well, with its arms extended skyward, it is arguably the most exuberant of letters — exuberant, yet distinguished. When a Y replaces an i , it generally makes the word more highfalutin. Like “Smythe” instead of “Smith.”

The i  is more lighthearted, and — truth be told — it often feminizes an otherwise masculine name, as in Charli from Charlie, and Andi from Andy. The i pluralizes certain words in a debonair fashion, without that sibilant spluttering S, words such as alumni and octopi.

The i of course is a dotted letter, and dotted letters are simply beguiling. Now, c’mon, what can be cuter than emoji?

I began my search with exuberance, with a Y :  pyroot.

WHOA! Did I ever hit pay dirt!  I found “pyROOT.”  (The coiners of that word liked messing around with letter cases, too.)  I am going to spare you lots of the scientifcy talk I found from The University of Oxford Department of Physics. Just know that pyRoot is an analytical interface that can examine petabytes of data. 

A petabyte is a quadrillion –  that’s a one, with fifteen zeros!

So, I tried searching for the word, again, this time spelling it with an i : piroot.

I found it in the all-American Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary. Lookee here…

piroot: “South & Midland: go about idly or aimlessly —often used with around.”

But the etymology of the word brings us to the most fun part.

The root of piroot is pirouette – you know, like a spinning ballerina. 

•   •   •

This leaves me again to ponder my forty-odd years on the road and to calculate the total number of pirouetting turns I have made in various guest rooms as I removed decorative pillows from all those many beds.

That number is close to a petabyte – nearly 1,000,000,000,000,000.

Andy Irwin, of Covington, is a natural storyteller, humorist, singer, songwriter and musician. He can be reached at