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three-ring circus

or three-ringed circus

[three-ring]
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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.
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Origin of three-ring circus

An Americanism dating back to 1880–85
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for three-ring circus

three-ring circus

noun US and 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
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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

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.

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.