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

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Other Words from circus

circusy \ ˈsər-​kə-​sē How to pronounce circus (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 And Zacchini, whose lineage includes none other than the world-famous Flying Zacchinis, comes from a circus family, whose life was one long, incredible road trip. Amy Drew Thompson,, "Best road-trip junk food? Five Orlando chefs share their favorites," 19 Feb. 2021 Worse, the creative spirit that animates him had come to feel less like a wild creature and more like a circus animal. New York Times, "Losing Control With Riz Ahmed," 28 Jan. 2021 Ingram banked in the straightway 3 and got fouled, a circus shot that, with his ensuing make at the free-throw line, caused New Orleans’ lead to swell to 21. Christian Clark,, "Pelicans beat the undermanned Wizards in a badly-needed win: 'You play who is out there'," 27 Jan. 2021 Protesting circus workers said French law is already strict enough to ensure the welfare of the animals appearing in their shows. Sylvie Corbet, Star Tribune, "French lawmakers debate ban on wild animals in circuses," 26 Jan. 2021 Singers inside the booths wear no masks; outside them, other singers and circus performers, all masked, stagger through a seemingly toxic landscape. Heidi Waleson, WSJ, "‘The Kaiser of Atlantis’ and ‘Mezzo Extravaganza’ Reviews: Outdoor Opera Resonates," 20 Jan. 2021 The growing demand encouraged her to open a circus school in Santa Monica. Los Angeles Times, "A COVID-era balancing act for survival at world-famous Le Petit Cirque," 17 Jan. 2021 Take P!nk, who has spent the better part of the past decade flying high above our heads on a wire, performing amazing circus stunts that tap into her pre-fame skills as a competitive gymnast. Billboard Staff, Billboard, "25 Things We'd Like to See Happen in 2021," 14 Jan. 2021 Rather, it was said about him by circus rival David Hannum after crowds chose Barnum’s show over his. Dave Lieber, Dallas News, "Is it true that a sucker is born every minute? The Watchdog takes a look," 24 Dec. 2020

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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Time Traveler for circus

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for circus

Last Updated

25 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Circus.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
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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.
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

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