Definition of circus in English:



  • 1A travelling company of acrobats, clowns, and other entertainers which gives performances, typically in a large tent, in a series of different places:

    ‘I was thrilled by the annual visits of the circus’
    [as modifier] ‘a circus elephant’
    • ‘The travelling circus goes to Barcelona in Spain for the fifth round of the championship.’
    • ‘Time had eroded all things: the circus tents, the faces of young performers, the swiftness of reactions and the size of audiences.’
    • ‘She has returned to the ring, though - supporting the circus clown's act.’
    • ‘Maybe he and his niece could join a traveling circus to get by.’
    • ‘A travelling circus has been destroyed by last weekend's gusty weather just days after its opening night in Swindon.’
    • ‘A jazz trio will play and there will be a magician and circus performer.’
    • ‘It's all quite a long way removed from the life he and his father once knew, as entertainers in a travelling circus.’
    • ‘We're a circus troupe, aren't we?’
    • ‘Perhaps the most excitement was caused by the circus coming to town, however.’
    • ‘Often, I feel a bit like a high-wire circus performer working without a net.’
    • ‘You are distracted by acrobats and circus performers and watch little chubby cheeked children clapping their hands with sheer joy.’
    • ‘The three-ring circus is made up of around 180 performers and 80 animals.’
    • ‘They probably give thanks every day that they haven't been carted off to perform in some travelling circus and can just graze away in this beautifully quiet corner of the world.’
    • ‘I just can't get enough of shows performed in circus tents.’
    • ‘Later he was a road labourer and a wrestler in travelling circuses.’
    • ‘He heard the complaints that he sometimes came across as too dour and awkward and while that rankled, he always insisted he was there to manage a football team not entertain like a circus clown.’
    • ‘Bizarrely, traveling circuses are exempt from the restriction.’
    • ‘But, unlike the old circus shows with their clowns and candyfloss, this performance is governed by a sophisticated theatrical sensibility.’
    • ‘As usual, a circus troupe has pitched its tent in the Festival City in view of the vacation.’
    • ‘The circus, the nomadic tent show of breathtaking performances, is on.’
    1. 1.1informal A large group of people travelling together on the circuit of a particular high-profile activity:
      ‘the Formula One grand prix circus’
      • ‘More attractions will be opening up as the NFL circus travels around the country.’
      • ‘So it is back to Italy for the F1 circus this weekend.’
      • ‘So the F1 circus has now moved across the Atlantic to the Gilles Villeneuve circuit in Canada.’
      • ‘The media was pleased to receive the calendar for next year's F1 circus nice and early.’
      • ‘The traveling circus known as pro tennis arrived on the outskirts of London on June 23.’
    2. 1.2informal A public scene of frenetic, noisy, or confused activity:
      ‘a media circus’
      • ‘Here he is trying to make his way through the media circus.’
      • ‘But the Congressman's lawyer says this whole thing has become a media circus and a tabloid frenzy.’
      • ‘I'll never forget the media circus that followed.’
      • ‘Surely they're not sick of the media circus already?’
      • ‘Members of the media circus are frustrated already.’
      • ‘It would be ridiculous to expect such a circus to settle major public issues.’
      • ‘While the circus surrounding free agents is going on, the draft process continues at full speed.’
      • ‘Sheltered from reality in the public circus, these people seriously believed that their complicated jargon would be understood by the average shmuck on the street.’
      • ‘His family had initially claimed it was not possible to hold a ceremony due to the media circus following their every movement.’
      • ‘With just 270 bedrooms on site, the media circus of several thousand will have to be housed as much as 50 miles away.’
      • ‘It just shows up the frayed edges and leaves the poor unfortunate drained and often humiliated by the experience as the media circus moves on to its next victim.’
      • ‘What was the media circus like at the scene in Colorado?’
      • ‘Let's boycott the Big Top when this media circus comes to town.’
      • ‘But she was not willing to live under this media circus tent for the sake of a job.’
      • ‘I wrote him a letter, and I apologized for the media circus, because I hadn't intended it.’
      • ‘The whole circus happening around my vehicle puts a smile on my face.’
      • ‘I am angered and appalled at the way the news media has made a circus of their portrayal of this case.’
      • ‘Spare us the circus of long public trials, say the letters to the editor.’
      • ‘Needless to say (but I'll say it all the same), the ensuing trial was a media circus.’
      • ‘So it's become a three-ring circus in terms of lawsuits.’
  • 2(in ancient Rome) a rounded or oval arena lined with tiers of seats, used for equestrian and other sports and games:

    [in names] ‘the Circus Maximus’
    • ‘The circle is the defining motif of the Frénouse, a shape that haunted Tatin, from his early obsession with the enclosed ring of the circus, to his adolescent observation of planets.’
    • ‘By the 4th century A.D., nearly 177 days per year were devoted to the Games, held at the circus.’
  • 3British [in place names] A rounded open space in a town or city where several streets converge:

    ‘Piccadilly Circus’
    • ‘The work will also affect Regent Circus, Clarence Street, Princes Street and Victoria Road.’
    • ‘He said: ‘The new entrance on Queen's Circus will also improve access from the station to Battersea Park, Prince of Wales Drive, the Marco Polo building and Chelsea Bridge Wharf.’’
    • ‘The new department store will front on to St Botolph's Circus.’
    • ‘Tomorrow sees the Town Hall in Regent Circus host the Quiz.’
    • ‘The new civic space - the Circus - will provide the focal point and is described by developers as ‘an oasis of calm in the city centre’.’


Late Middle English (with reference to the arena of Roman antiquity): from Latin, ring or circus. The sense ‘travelling company of performers’ dates from the late 18th century.