noun, often attributive
cir·​cus | \ˈsər-kəs \

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

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Other Words from circus

circusy \ -​kə-​sē \ adjective

Synonyms for circus


babel, bedlam, madhouse, scrum [British], three-ring circus

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Examples of circus in a Sentence

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

Recent Examples on the Web

Well, the circus of disgrace is back in Washington and these tactics don't stop at the Supreme Court nominees, many also try to destroy the character. Fox News, "Reps. Meadows, Jordan call on Rosenstein to testify," 27 Sep. 2018 But the circus elephants’ retirement is one case, at least, where understanding history may have helped us to rectify the sins of the past. Amy Crawford,, "Why is history always about humans?," 13 July 2018 Most are members of a third-generation family of circus performers. Michelle Theriault Boots, Anchorage Daily News, "Hey Alaskans, the circus is in town," 18 June 2018 Men’s and women’s looks referenced the tailcoat and top hat traditionally worn by that circus performer. Adam Tschorn,, "It's haute harlequins and ringmaster chic at Moschino's circus-themed Burbank runway show," 13 June 2018 But based on Game 1, Curry the Ringmaster is back and the circus is on. Scott Ostler,, "Ringmaster Stephen Curry is back, and the Warriors’ circus is on," 1 June 2018 The music circus was a summer theater in the round under a striped tent, which drew large audiences before closing in 1970. Bonnie L. Cook,, "Louis J. Cameron Sr., 92, shipbuilder and musician," 31 May 2018 See all the vacation pics below: Harper sharpening her circus skills. Rita Thompson, Billboard, "Elton John & Neil Patrick Harris Go On Adorable Joint Family Vacation: See the Pics," 11 July 2018 Circus City Festival Peru is known as the Circus City, because several large circuses used to spend the winters there. Sarah Bahr, Indianapolis Star, "Ultimate Indiana bucket list: 50+ things to do in Indianapolis and around the state," 11 July 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.

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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

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Statistics for circus

Last Updated

14 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for circus

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

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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.

: 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


cir·​cus | \ˈsər-kəs \

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

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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).


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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