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

What started as a simple promotion turned into a circus, though. Lucas Aulbach, The Courier-Journal, "Build-A-Bear promotion made families wait hours – and then it closed," 12 July 2018 Every summer, the town puts on its own amateur circus during an eight-day festival in mid-July. Sarah Bahr, Indianapolis Star, "Ultimate Indiana bucket list: 50+ things to do in Indianapolis and around the state," 11 July 2018 By opposing the reform, judges are turning the court into a circus, said Marek Suski, head of the prime minister’s cabinet, on July 2nd. The Economist, "Poland’s government sacks a third of its Supreme Court," 5 July 2018 The family art event will include a performance by Le PeTiT Cirque — the only all-kid aerial and circus arts show — an art exhibit treasure hunt, art projects and balloon art and printmaking. Ben Brazil,, "Festival of Arts returns to Laguna Beach on Thursday," 3 July 2018 How James feels about the optics of playing alongside Ball and co-existing with his family circus is yet to be seen. Jeremy Woo,, "Examining the Biggest Ripple Effects of LeBron James's Decision to Join Lakers," 1 July 2018 He's traded in the tabloid sensationalism of emotion, outrage, anger and dripped-out intrigue over coming decisions, and has peeled off stinging attacks on political rivals, acting as the ringmaster of his own news circus. Stephen Collinson, CNN, "Trump's tabloid past may come back to haunt him," 17 Apr. 2018 Public meetings with Rosario at the helm often turned into a dysfunctional circus. Lauren Ritchie,, "Groveland council right to finally toss mayor, a convicted cocaine dealer," 13 Jan. 2018 Dumbo will be forced to perform at a struggling circus as others discover his abilities. Omar Sanchez, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Dumbo': Everything to Know About Disney's Live-Action Remake Directed by Tim Burton," 27 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

17 Oct 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).


one that holds something together

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