vicious circle


Definition of vicious circle

1 : an argument or definition that begs the question
2 : 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 Now, the anxiety itself triggers performance issues for these patients, often creating a vicious circle. Ian Kerner, CNN, 19 July 2021 Japan found itself in a vicious circle, said Takatoshi Ito, a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, who served on Japan’s Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy. New York Times, 15 July 2021 The shift underscores the vicious circle of climate change as more extreme temperatures drive power demand just as extensive drought cuts output from hydropower dams., 8 July 2021 Arctic ice is melting as the climate crisis drives up temperatures, resulting in a vicious circle in which more dark water is exposed to the sun's heat, leading to even more heating of the planet. Paul Douglas, Star Tribune, 7 June 2021 To break this vicious circle, the government needs to lower tuition costs by getting out of the credit market for student loans and developing a more cost-effective way for all Americans, regardless of income, to attend college. WSJ, 1 June 2021 And that vicious circle does imperil the future of free-market capitalism. Judy Shelton, WSJ, 27 May 2021 Paul Theroux’s book, which was adapted as a feature film in 1986, is an allegory for the vicious circle of colonialism nested within an adventure narrative. Judy Berman, Time, 29 Apr. 2021 Some never escape the vicious circle of debt and irregularity. Aritz Parra, Star Tribune, 18 Dec. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vicious circle.' 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 vicious circle

circa 1792, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for vicious circle

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The first known use of vicious circle was circa 1792

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vicious circle

vicious circle principle

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Last Updated

30 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Vicious circle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Aug. 2021.

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More Definitions for vicious circle

vicious circle


English Language Learners Definition of vicious circle

: a repeating situation or condition in which one problem causes another problem that makes the first problem worse

More from Merriam-Webster on vicious circle

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for vicious circle Encyclopedia article about vicious circle


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