noun, often attributive
cir·​cus | \ ˈsər-kəs How to pronounce circus (audio) \

Definition of circus

1a : a large arena enclosed by tiers of seats on three or all four sides and used especially for sports or spectacles (such as athletic contests, exhibitions of horsemanship, or in ancient times chariot racing)
b : a public spectacle
2a : 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
3a obsolete : circle, ring
b British : a usually circular area at an intersection of streets

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from circus

circusy \ ˈsər-​kə-​sē How to pronounce circusy (audio) \ adjective

Examples of circus in a Sentence

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

Recent Examples on the Web

What started in New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel as a handful of anti-establishment gallerists has ballooned into a multi-exhibitor, multi-day, and multi-pier circus on the radar of every major gallery, collector, and art aficionado around the world. Zachary Schwartz, Vogue, "The Armory Show’s Collectors Dinner Gathered the Art World's Most Influential," 6 Mar. 2019 The jobs up for grabs were with Ms. Streb’s Extreme Action dance company, which has a style somewhere between dance, circus and performance art. ... Lauren Weber, WSJ, "Help Wanted: Must Enjoy Running Into Walls," 27 Feb. 2019 Kavanaugh’s televised circus was the most riveting legal show since Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas in 1991. James Atlas, Town & Country, "The Year of the Celebrity Super Lawyer," 3 Dec. 2018 Some members also worry hearings would devolve into a political circus. Jon Kamp, WSJ, "Virginia’s Black Caucus Gains Strength Amid Political Turmoil," 15 Feb. 2019 The highest court in the land has turned into a circus and, closer to home, my inbox has become a battleground. Nicole Brodeur, The Seattle Times, "88 angry emails and counting: Kavanaugh hearings deepen rift between men and women," 5 Oct. 2018 Representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter declined Congress’ invitation to appear at that hearing, which quickly devolved into a circus. Casey Newton, The Verge, "Congress pressures tech companies to ban more accounts," 17 July 2018 Reporters poured into Rajneeshpuram from all over the world, turning the scene into a media circus. Win Mccormack, The New Republic, "Bhagwan’s Final Year," 12 Apr. 2018 That’s the nub of this entire case that’s turned into a media circus. Maria Cramer,, "Former high-ranking State Police officials ask judge to throw out case against them," 15 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'circus.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of circus

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for circus

Middle English, from Latin, circle, circus — more at circle

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about circus

Statistics for circus

Last Updated

18 Apr 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for circus

The first known use of circus was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for circus



English Language Learners Definition of circus

: a traveling show that is often performed in a tent and that typically includes trained animals, clowns, acrobats, etc.
informal : a situation or event that is very busy, lively, and confusing and that attracts a lot of attention
British : a circular area where several streets meet


cir·​cus | \ ˈsər-kəs How to pronounce circus (audio) \

Kids Definition of circus

: a traveling show that often takes place under a tent and that usually includes acts performed by acrobats, clowns, and trained animals

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on circus

What made you want to look up circus? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


likely to have or produce good results

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Latin Quiz

  • roman forum
  • Which of the following months comes from a Latin word for “ten”?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!