[ sur-kuhs ]
See 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.

  1. anything resembling such public entertainments, as an event or activity that is wildly active, disordered, sensational, etc.: That whole trial was a circus.

  2. a circular arena surrounded by tiers of seats, in which public entertainments are held; arena.

  3. (in ancient Rome)

    • a large, usually oblong or oval, roofless enclosure, surrounded by tiers of seats rising one above another, for chariot races, public games, etc.

    • an entertainment given in this Roman arena, as a chariot race or public game: The Caesars appeased the public with bread and circuses.

  4. anything resembling the Roman circus, or arena, as a natural amphitheater or a circular range of houses.

  5. British. an open circle, square, or plaza where several streets converge: Piccadilly Circus.

  6. Obsolete. a circlet or ring.

Origin of circus

First recorded in 1350–1400; Middle English, from Latin: “circular region of the sky, oval space in which games were held,” akin to (or borrowed from) Greek kírkos “ring, circle”

Other words from circus

  • cir·cus·y, adjective

Words Nearby circus Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use circus in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for circus


/ (ˈsɜːkəs) /

nounplural -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

  1. an oval or circular arena, usually tented and surrounded by tiers of seats, in which such a performance is held

  2. a travelling group of professional sportsmen: a cricket circus

  3. (in ancient Rome)

    • an open-air stadium, usually oval or oblong, for chariot races or public games

    • the games themselves

  4. British

    • an open place, usually circular, in a town, where several streets converge

    • (capital when part of a name): Piccadilly Circus

  5. informal noisy or rowdy behaviour

  6. informal a person or group of people whose behaviour is wild, disorganized, or (esp unintentionally) comic

Origin of 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

Other 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.