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 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

For several blocks, rainbow umbrellas and tarps create a circus-like tunnel filled with the sounds of cumbia and merengue, and with all kinds of Mexican and Central American food: pupusas, plantains, tacos, pambazos, burritos, birria. Esmeralda Bermudezstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "Behind the story: Inspired by a viral tweet to share the Piñata District," 18 July 2019 The circus, organized by Patricia Ohmans and Frogtown Green, will present strategies on how to combat those impacts within a series of tents stationed on a long-vacant lot. Frederick Melo, Twin Cities, "Sustainability Circus comes to St. Paul’s Frogtown Sept. 7," 16 Aug. 2019 Their goal was to conduct a circus-like tour of Palestinian sites in which international journalists would help them smear Israel as an oppressor. Jonathan S. Tobin, National Review, "Banning Omar and Tlaib May Help Trump, but It Hurts Israel," 16 Aug. 2019 Many of the questions here during the Bulldogs’ spin through this media circus were about their cross-division rival. Ross Dellenger,, "Kirby Smart and Georgia Determined to Close the Gap on Alabama," 16 July 2019 Or the yard where an elephant from a traveling circus was buried. Rebecca Sallee | For, al, "Take a romantic carriage ride in downtown Huntsville," 12 Aug. 2019 Her aptitude for this last pursuit was rooted in her childhood in Bavaria, where her father built the family a miniature circus. David Netto, Town & Country, "Was This Photo of an Austrian Empress the World's First Paparazzi Photo?," 7 Aug. 2019 The trailer shows a young witch trapped in a cage at a magical circus. Kelsey Stiegman, Seventeen, "New 'Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald' Trailer Confirms Voldemort’s Snake Nagini Was a Actually a WITCH," 25 Sep. 2018 The Circus: Down the Road Documentary about a traveling big-top circus. Los Angeles Times, "L.A. movie openings, Aug. 4-11: ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold,’ ‘The Kitchen’ and more," 4 Aug. 2019

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

19 Sep 2019

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.
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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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).


concealment of treason or felony

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