vicious circle


: an argument or definition that begs the question
: a chain of events in which the response to one difficulty creates a new problem that aggravates the original difficulty

called also vicious cycle

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Vicious circle originally referred to a circular argument, that is, an argument that assumes the conclusion as one of its premises. That sense was first documented around the end of the 18th century. Approximately 50 years later, vicious circle acquired the now more common "chain of events" sense as people began to think of the circle as a metaphorical circle rather than a circular argument. Today, vicious cycle is a common variant for the "chain of events" sense. Vicious spiral, in which the ill effects are cumulative as well as self-aggravating, puts in an occasional appearance as well.

Examples of vicious circle in a Sentence

We're trapped in a vicious circle.
Recent Examples on the Web This dynamic, whereby American conspiracy theorists and foreign intelligence operatives feed off one another in a vicious circle, is not new. Olga Belogolova, Foreign Affairs, 3 May 2024 Critics argue Musk has trapped Tesla in a vicious circle by training consumers to postpone their purchase in the hopes of getting a better deal in the future. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 12 Feb. 2024 Drought is a vicious circle for farmers: As rainfall decreases, the soil compresses. Jack Thompson, The Christian Science Monitor, 19 Jan. 2024 Perhaps in telling this tale Smith held out the hope that the best of monarchs, like the best of emperors, Augustus, could break this vicious circle. Iain Murray, National Review, 16 Dec. 2023 See all Example Sentences for vicious circle 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'vicious circle.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

circa 1792, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of vicious circle was circa 1792


Dictionary Entries Near vicious circle

Cite this Entry

“Vicious circle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

vicious circle

: a situation or condition that endlessly repeats itself

called also vicious cycle

More from Merriam-Webster on vicious circle

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