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May 16, 2011
This week's theme
Words derived from circus

This week's words
three-ring circus
dog-and-pony show
hey rube

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Who as a child hasn't dreamed of running away to join a circus? I grew up watching circus performances in India and loved every moment of it.

When I came to the US to attend graduate school and learned that a circus was in town, I stopped by to watch a performance. The show was okay, but the constant refrain of "the greatest show on earth" turned me off. I wanted to say, "How about you put on a show and let me decide if it's really the greatest show on earth. Ever heard of show, not tell?"

Later I learned that animals don't exactly run away to join the circus (see RinglingBeatsAnimals.com) and I was permanently turned off by traditional circuses. But you don't have to deprive yourself and your young ones of the joy of watching impossible feats. There are many fine shows such as Cirque du Soleil that do not abuse animals for profit's sake.

Many terms from and about the circus have entered the English language vocabulary. This week we'll feature five that are often used metaphorically in non-circus contexts.

three-ring circus

(THREE-ring SUHR-kuhs)

noun: A situation marked by confusing, amusing, or tumultuous activity.

After a circus with three separate rings in which performances take place simultaneously. Earliest documented use: 1898.

"Guy Ritchie told friends recently: 'Our marriage was a three-ring circus in the end. We started as a normal family and tried to live a normal family life, but Madonna wanted something else.'"
Marriage Had Become Three-Ring Circus; Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland); Oct 16, 2008.

See more usage examples of three-ring circus in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

Reading is sometimes an ingenious device for avoiding thought. -Arthur Helps, writer (1813-1875)

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