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

Examples of circus in a Sentence

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

Recent Examples on the Web

But companies are now starting to test whether an entire business can become agile—corporate versions of the Chinese state circus. The Economist, "The fashion for agile management is spreading," 5 July 2018 And so the plan to play a clown at that circus was put in motion. Jim Stingl, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Stingl: Washington County Board member shows up in a clown suit at his seat belt trial," 22 June 2018 The decision helped him forge a path to a brief stint as a clown with the venerable Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus before the operation shut down last year. Marco Santana,, "Ringling Bros. alum set to debut Legoland 'clowning' show," 24 May 2018 The Peter Strzok hearing degenerated into a circus, but never mind. Howard Kurtz, Fox News, "Kavanaugh's baseball debts: Why the nominee's opponents are striking out," 13 July 2018 There was also a tournament of kokpar (a traditional game played on horseback with a dead goat instead of a ball) and a circus featuring elaborate shows of horsemanship. The Economist, "The president of Kazakhstan throws himself a modest birthday bash," 12 July 2018 Since the Brexit referendum, the public has witnessed a circus of chicanery, buffoonery and idiocy that Boris Johnson’s exit will only ease in the most marginal of fashions. Sean Williams, The New Republic, "England’s World Cup Team: the Anti-Brexit," 10 July 2018 Shirley also lived through 20 years with a traveling circus, according to her caretakers at the The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Joe Marusak, charlotteobserver, "She survived Castro, a crash and a burning ship. Now Shirley the elephant is turning 70," 5 July 2018 Some have dismissed the issue as a political circus. Christopher Keating,, "Stormy Daniels Brings Her Show, And Her Political Infamy, To East Windsor," 24 June 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

5 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

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).


alleviating pain or harshness

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