[sur-kuh s]
See more synonyms for circus on
noun, plural cir·cus·es.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. a circular arena surrounded by tiers of seats, in which public entertainments are held; arena.
  4. (in ancient Rome)
    1. a large, usually oblong or oval, roofless enclosure, surrounded by tiers of seats rising one above another, for chariot races, public games, etc.
    2. an entertainment given in this Roman arena, as a chariot race or public game: The Caesars appeased the public with bread and circuses.
  5. anything resembling the Roman circus, or arena, as a natural amphitheater or a circular range of houses.
  6. flying circus.
  7. British. an open circle, square, or plaza where several streets converge: Piccadilly Circus.
  8. fun, excitement, or uproar; a display of rowdy sport.
  9. Obsolete. a circlet or ring.

Origin of circus

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
Related formscir·cus·y, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for circus

festival, spectacle, bazaar, hippodrome, show, gilly, kermis

Examples from the Web for circus

Contemporary Examples of circus

Historical Examples of circus

  • The meeting was held in the vast auditorium of the Circus Building, which was filled.

    The Grand Old Man

    Richard B. Cook

  • If Monsieur the Director of the Circus comes now he will go in the special car.

    The Underdog

    F. Hopkinson Smith

  • The first man to approach the wicket was the Director of the Circus.

    The Underdog

    F. Hopkinson Smith

  • It was a circus really, but that the worshippers did not know.

    American Notes

    Rudyard Kipling

  • If you stop her off there, I dunno but she'd jine a circus or take to drink!

    Tiverton Tales

    Alice Brown

British Dictionary definitions for circus


noun plural -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 sportsmena cricket circus
  5. (in ancient Rome)
    1. an open-air stadium, usually oval or oblong, for chariot races or public games
    2. the games themselves
  6. British
    1. an open place, usually circular, in a town, where several streets converge
    2. (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

Word Origin for circus

C16: from Latin, from Greek kirkos ring
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

Word Origin and History for circus

late 14c., in reference to ancient Rome, from Latin circus "ring, circular line," which was applied by Romans to circular arenas for performances and contests and oval courses for racing (especially the Circus Maximus), from or cognate with Greek kirkos "a circle, a ring," from PIE *kirk- from root *(s)ker- "to turn, bend" (see ring (n.)).

In reference to modern large arenas for performances from 1791; sense then extended to the performing company, hence "traveling show" (originally traveling circus, 1838). Extended in World War I to squadrons of military aircraft. Meaning "lively uproar, chaotic hubbub" is from 1869. Sense in Picadilly Circus and other place names is from early 18c. sense "buildings arranged in a ring," also "circular road." The adjective form is circensian.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with circus


see three-ring circus.

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