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three-ring circus

or three-ringed circus

[three-ring] /ˈθriˌrɪŋ/
noun
1.
a circus having three adjacent rings in which performances take place simultaneously.
2.
something spectacular, tumultuous, entertaining, or full of confused action:
Our family reunions are always three-ring circuses.
Origin of three-ring circus
1880-1885
1880-85, Americanism
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for three-ring circus
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • With all the activities of the school taking place at once, we were as excited as two boys seeing their first three-ring circus.

    High Adventure James Norman Hall
  • Though she loved the girl as her own, there were times when she felt that running a three-ring circus would be much easier.

    Hoofbeats on the Turnpike Mildred A. Wirt
  • They had a gang of stevedores working there clock-like, as those fellows work around the big tents of a three-ring circus.

    The Modern Railroad Edward Hungerford
  • He is a three-ring circus and concert all by himself, but he doesn't know it, and that's what makes him so good.

    Old Man Curry Charles E. (Charles Emmett) Van Loan
  • She drew up close to one wall and watched; she might have been an excited child at a three-ring circus.

    Daughter of the Sun Jackson Gregory
British Dictionary definitions for three-ring circus

three-ring circus

noun (US & Canadian)
1.
a circus with three rings in which separate performances are carried on simultaneously
2.
a situation of confusion, characterized by a bewildering variety of events or activities
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Idioms and Phrases with three-ring circus

three-ring circus

A situation of complete confusion, as in It was a three-ring circus, with the baby crying, the dog barking, both telephones ringing, and someone at the front door. This term alludes to a circus where three rings or arenas are featuring performances simultaneously. Perhaps invented by show business impresario P.T. Barnum, the term was extended to other confused situations by about 1900.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Difficulty index for three-ring circus

Few English speakers likely know this word

Word Value for three

8
7
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