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

The circus moves to Dreamland, a place somewhat reminiscent of Disneyland. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "New trailer for Disney’s live-action Dumbo captures magic of original," 15 Nov. 2018 Republicans control our Congress, and Republicans are allowing this circus to continue. Monique Judge, The Root, "Let’s Discuss How Republicans in Congress Are Complicit in Trump’s Bullshit," 20 Mar. 2018 Meltzer’s design collaborators have created an immersive environment in which the excesses and absurdities of tort law are the star attraction in this one-ring circus. Christine Dolen, miamiherald, "‘Wrongful Death’ and the art of the circus-themed world," 22 Jan. 2018 Kanye, despite his own part in this circus, was right. kansascity, "Bold lessons in Kanye West's rants | The Kansas City Star," 12 Oct. 2013 Dumbo becomes the star of the circus and is reunited with his mother. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "New trailer for Disney’s live-action Dumbo captures magic of original," 15 Nov. 2018 The Kavanaugh circus looked like Washington politics at its worst, and that seems to be helping Mrs. Blackburn, who’s running ads tying Mr. Bredesen to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Glenn Harlan Reynolds, WSJ, "Marsha Blackburn’s Tennessee Turnaround," 12 Oct. 2018 With the Fashion Week circus now behind us, maybe take a moment to check your labels, and have a think. Maya Singer, Vogue, "I Took Bangladeshi Photographer Activist Taslima Akhter to New York Fashion Week—Here’s What Happened," 5 Oct. 2018 After their mother, Princess Diana, died in 1997, Prince Charles took his sons to Africa to get away from the media circus surrounding her death. Kayleigh Roberts, Marie Claire, "Harry and Meghan's Love Story Has Something Very Sweet in Common With Will and Kate's," 19 Aug. 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

12 Dec 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).


a knickknack or trinket

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