[sur-kuh s]

noun, plural cir·cus·es.

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. 2019

Examples from the Web for circus

Contemporary Examples of circus

Historical Examples of circus

British Dictionary definitions for circus


noun plural -cuses

a travelling company of entertainers such as acrobats, clowns, trapeze artistes, and trained animals
a public performance given by such a company
an oval or circular arena, usually tented and surrounded by tiers of seats, in which such a performance is held
a travelling group of professional sportsmena cricket circus
(in ancient Rome)
  1. an open-air stadium, usually oval or oblong, for chariot races or public games
  2. the games themselves
  1. an open place, usually circular, in a town, where several streets converge
  2. (capital when part of a name)Piccadilly Circus
informal noisy or rowdy behaviour
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.