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bread and circuses

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noun
  1. something, as extravagant entertainment, offered as an expedient means of pacifying discontent or diverting attention from a source of grievance.
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Origin of bread and circuses

1910–15; translation of Latin pānis et circēnsēs; from a remark by the Roman satirist Juvenal on the limited desires of the Roman populace
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

bread and circuses in Culture

bread and circuses

A phrase used by a Roman writer to deplore the declining heroism of Romans after the Roman Republic ceased to exist and the Roman Empire began: “Two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses.” The government kept the Roman populace happy by distributing free food and staging huge spectacles. (See Colosseum.)

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Note

“Bread and circuses” has become a convenient general term for government policies that seek short-term solutions to public unrest.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.