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I am at present rigorously studying 擬音語/擬態語 (an entire world of its own!).

The definition my book has for ぼちぼち (also ぼつぼつ) is:

1. Gradually; slowly but steadily
2. Used to describe something that is about to happen.  Imminently.  Right away.
3. The condition of many dots or other small objects scattered around.

Ignoring definition 3, definition 1 seems nearly identical to どんどん and だんだん:

ぼちぼち ←→ どんどん ←→ だんだん

and definition 2 seems nearly identical to そろそろ:

ぼちぼち ←→ そろそろ

Is this correct?? If so, are they freely interchangeable in a given situation, etc.? Can someone explain any nuances amongst them??

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Usage 1: I think this usage has sort of Kansai dialect flavour, although it can still be used in Tokyo dialect. While どんどん and だんだん have the implication that it is straightforwardly going towards one direction on the scale, ほちほち implies that some kind of force against it or brake is in effect, or it just implies that the rate of change is slower. It can even mean that it is not changing but is static at some moderate degree. Close English expressions are little by little or so-so. A typical (stereotypical) Osaka-merchants' greeting phrase:

A: 儲かりまっか。
'Is your business going well?'
B: ぼちぼちでんがな。
'So-so.'

Usage 2: Under this usage, I think you can only use it for volitional acts.

そろそろ仕事に戻ろう。
ぼちぼち仕事に戻ろう。
'Let's get back to work.'

そろそろ雨が降るはずだ
△ ぼちぼち雨が降るはずだ
'It is about to start to rain.'

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