Definition of circus in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈsərkəs/

noun (plural circuses)

1A traveling company of acrobats, trained animals, and clowns that gives performances, typically in a large tent, in a series of different places: [as modifier]: a circus elephant
More example sentences
  • It's all quite a long way removed from the life he and his father once knew, as entertainers in a travelling circus.
  • He heard the complaints that he sometimes came across as too dour and awkward and while that rankled, he always insisted he was there to manage a football team not entertain like a circus clown.
  • I just can't get enough of shows performed in circus tents.
carnival, big top, cirque
1.1(In ancient Rome) a rounded or oblong arena lined with tiers of seats, used for equestrian and other sports and games.
Example sentences
  • By the 4th century A.D., nearly 177 days per year were devoted to the Games, held at the circus.
  • The circle is the defining motif of the Frénouse, a shape that haunted Tatin, from his early obsession with the enclosed ring of the circus, to his adolescent observation of planets.
1.2 informal A large group of people travelling together on the circuit of a particular high-profile activity: the Formula One circus
More example sentences
  • More attractions will be opening up as the NFL circus travels around the country.
  • The traveling circus known as pro tennis arrived on the outskirts of London on June 23.
  • So the F1 circus has now moved across the Atlantic to the Gilles Villeneuve circuit in Canada.
1.3 informal A public scene of frenetic and noisily intrusive activity: a media circus
More example sentences
  • What was the media circus like at the scene in Colorado?
  • But the Congressman's lawyer says this whole thing has become a media circus and a tabloid frenzy.
  • Spare us the circus of long public trials, say the letters to the editor.
(a) turmoil, chaos, a zoo, bedlam, mayhem, pandemonium
2British (In place names) a rounded open space in a city where several streets converge: Piccadilly Circus
More example sentences
  • Tomorrow sees the Town Hall in Regent Circus host the Quiz.
  • The new civic space - the Circus - will provide the focal point and is described by developers as ‘an oasis of calm in the city centre’.
  • The work will also affect Regent Circus, Clarence Street, Princes Street and Victoria Road.


Late Middle English (with reference to the arena of Roman antiquity): from Latin, 'ring or circus'. The sense 'traveling company of performers' dates from the late 18th century.

  • circle from Old English:

    The root of circle is Latin circulus ‘small ring’, from circus ‘ring’, the source of our word circus (Late Middle English). A Roman circus was a rounded or oval arena lined with tiers of seats, where chariot races, gladiatorial combats, and other, often cruel, contests took place. Names like Piccadilly Circus were attached to open, more or less circular areas in towns where streets converged. Other words from the same root include circuit (Late Middle English) from Latin circum ire ‘go around’, and circulate (Late Middle English) ‘move in a circular path’. Come or turn full circle is a reference to ‘The Wheele is come full circle’ in Shakespeare's King Lear. The wheel is the one thought of as being turned by the goddess Fortune and symbolizing change.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: cir·cus

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