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fits and starts, by

Also,in fits and starts. With irregular intervals of action and inaction, spasmodically, as in The campaign is proceeding by fits and starts. This expression began in the late 1500s as by fits, the noun fit meaning a “paroxysm” or “seizure”; starts was added about a century later.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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