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2 definitions found
 for By fits and starts
From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 :

  Fit \Fit\, n. [AS. fit strife, fight; of uncertain origin.
     [root] 77.]
     1. A stroke or blow. [Obs. or R.]
        [1913 Webster]
  
              Curse on that cross, quoth then the Sarazin,
              That keeps thy body from the bitter fit. --Spenser.
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     2. A sudden and violent attack of a disorder; a stroke of
        disease, as of epilepsy or apoplexy, which produces
        convulsions or unconsciousness; a convulsion; a paroxysm;
        hence, a period of exacerbation of a disease; in general,
        an attack of disease; as, a fit of sickness.
        [1913 Webster]
  
              And when the fit was on him, I did mark
              How he did shake.                     --Shak.
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     3. A mood of any kind which masters or possesses one for a
        time; a temporary, absorbing affection; a paroxysm; as, a
        fit of melancholy, of passion, or of laughter.
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              All fits of pleasure we balanced by an equal degree
              of pain.                              --Swift.
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              The English, however, were on this subject prone to
              fits of jealously.                    --Macaulay.
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     4. A passing humor; a caprice; a sudden and unusual effort,
        activity, or motion, followed by relaxation or inaction;
        an impulsive and irregular action.
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              The fits of the season.               --Shak.
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     5. A darting point; a sudden emission. [R.]
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              A tongue of light, a fit of flame.    --Coleridge.
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     By fits, By fits and starts, by intervals of action and
        repose; impulsively and irregularly; intermittently.
        [1913 Webster]

From WordNet (r) 3.0 (2006) :

  by fits and starts
      adv 1: intermittently; "he worked on his book by fits and
             starts"

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