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I just came across these couple of lines and I am trying to understand their meaning. I am confused as I am not able to confidently point at one of the two narrowed down meanings which I could come up with. Surprise me if both of my choices are not even close to the actual meaning.

"His children arrive by degrees. Most don't have far to come, still living in or near Calcutta. None of them or Rajesh's more distant descendant have followed him into thaumic physics"

Now how do you interpret, " his children arrive by degrees". Does the degree mean proximity, as in distance from Calcutta or educational qualification of his children, for eg - degree in computers ?

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    It's an "unusual, non-standard" usage.Feasibly more "acceptable" in Indian English, but I rather doubt that. But I think "thaumic physics" tells us we're dealing with a "non-standard" author anyway. Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 13:27
  • No, it is not a phrase. It is a pronoun.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 13:55

2 Answers 2

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"By degrees" in this example means "separately and spread out in time", as opposed to "all together" or "all at the same time".

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  • But it's very unusual to use 'by degrees' after 'arrived' meaning 'showed up // came to this / that location'. Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 13:34
  • To me, that turn of phrase in this unusual context gives the impression that there are a lot of children.
    – Rupe
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 13:48
  • Indeed @EdwinAshworth, I agree it would be unusual for a native speaker, and implies to me a rather old-fashioned written form.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 14:37
  • @Rupe, certainly at least three, but it did not imply a "lot" to me- though maybe three IS a lot. YMMV :)
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 14:38
  • @MarvMills Fair enough. In my mind it's almost like it's treating their arrival as a continuous process, so the more of them there are, the less odd it feels. Anyway it's just an observation, trying to address the question of what the author might have been trying to convey by using the phrase. Your answer is right, for sure.
    – Rupe
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 14:48
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Degree: the amount, level, or extent to which something happens or is present. This to me speaks in terms of amount over time that the children arrive and not in the how of their arrival.

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