noun, plural circuses.
a large public entertainment, typically presented in one or more very large tents or in an outdoor or indoor arena, featuring exhibitions of pageantry, feats of skill and daring, performing animals, etc., interspersed throughout with the slapstick antics of clowns. Compare big top.
a troupe of performers, especially a traveling troupe, that presents such entertainments, together with officials, other employees, and the company's performing animals, traveling wagons, tents, cages, and equipment.
a circular arena surrounded by tiers of seats, in which public entertainments are held; arena.
a large, usually oblong or oval, roofless enclosure, surrounded by tiers of seats rising one above another, for chariot races, public games, etc.
an entertainment given in this Roman arena, as a chariot race or public game: The Caesars appeased the public with bread and circuses.
anything resembling the Roman circus, or arena, as a natural amphitheater or a circular range of houses.
British. an open circle, square, or plaza where several streets converge: Piccadilly Circus.
fun, excitement, or uproar; a display of rowdy sport.
Obsolete. a circlet or ring.

1350–1400; Middle English < Latin: circular region of the sky, oval space in which games were held, akin to (or borrowed from) Greek kírkos ring, circle

circusy, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
circus (ˈsɜːkəs)
n , pl -cuses
1.  a travelling company of entertainers such as acrobats, clowns, trapeze artistes, and trained animals
2.  a public performance given by such a company
3.  an oval or circular arena, usually tented and surrounded by tiers of seats, in which such a performance is held
4.  a travelling group of professional sportsmen: a cricket circus
5.  in ancient Rome
 a.  an open-air stadium, usually oval or oblong, for chariot races or public games
 b.  the games themselves
6.  (Brit)
 a.  an open place, usually circular, in a town, where several streets converge
 b.  (capital when part of a name): Piccadilly Circus
7.  informal noisy or rowdy behaviour
8.  informal a person or group of people whose behaviour is wild, disorganized, or (esp unintentionally) comic
[C16: from Latin, from Greek kirkos ring]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

late 14c., from L. circus "ring," applied by Romans to circular arenas for performances and contests (esp. the Circus Maximus), from or akin to Gk. kirkos "a circle," from PIE *kirk- from base *(s)ker- "to turn, bend." First attested use for "traveling show" is 1791.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases


see three-ring circus.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
If he wasn't a rich guy, none of this circus would ever happen.
The trial itself was a circus, largely a publicity stunt for the county.
The venues showcase acrobatic shows, circus and magic acts, and exotic animals.
For example, they host tree planting dance parties and teach kids circus skills
  while throwing in tips on permaculture.
Idioms & Phrases
Images for circus
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