noun, often attributive \ˈsər-kəs\

: a traveling show that is often performed in a tent and that typically includes trained animals, clowns, acrobats, etc.

: a situation or event that is very busy, lively, and confusing and that attracts a lot of attention

: a circular area where several streets meet

Full Definition of CIRCUS

a :  a large arena enclosed by tiers of seats on three or all four sides and used especially for sports or spectacles (as athletic contests, exhibitions of horsemanship, or in ancient times chariot racing)
b :  a public spectacle
a :  an arena often covered by a tent and used for variety shows usually including feats of physical skill, wild animal acts, and performances by clowns
b :  a circus performance
c :  the physical plant, livestock, and personnel of such a circus
d :  something suggestive of a circus (as in frenzied activity, sensationalism, theatricality, or razzle-dazzle) <a media circus>
a obsolete :  circle, ring
b British :  a usually circular area at an intersection of streets
cir·cusy \-kə-sē\ adjective

Examples of CIRCUS

  1. He worked for a small circus.
  2. We're going to the circus.

Origin of CIRCUS

Middle English, from Latin, circle, circus — more at circle
First Known Use: 14th century


noun    (Concise Encyclopedia)

Entertainment or spectacle featuring animal acts and human feats of daring. The modern circus was founded in England in 1768 by the bareback rider Philip Astley (1742–1814), who built stands around his performance ring and opened Astley's Amphitheatre. One of his riders later established the Royal Circus (1782), the first modern use of the term. The first U.S. circus opened in Philadelphia in 1793. Horse acts were later joined by wild-animal acts. After the invention of the flying trapeze by Jules Léotard (1859), aerial acts were featured. P.T. Barnum expanded the traditional circus by adding two rings to create the three-ring circus (1881) and augmented it with sideshow performers. Circuses traveled throughout the U.S., Europe, and Latin America, performing in a tent (the Big Top) into the 1950s. Today circuses usually perform in permanent buildings, though small troupes still travel with tents in some regions. By the late 20th century, notable circuses also had developed in Africa, India, Spain, Brazil, and Mexico. Perhaps the most innovative trend in circuses at the turn of the 21st century was the establishment of companies such as the Cirque du Soleil; these companies employed no animals, instead emphasizing acts of human skill and daring and integrating elements of contemporary music and dance into the overall performance.


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