a three-ring circus
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A chaotic situation, often one in which a lot of activity is occurring simultaneously. I felt like I was in a three-ring circus when I babysat my neighbor's three noisy, mischievous children. Without the boss around, the business quickly devolved into a three-ring circus.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
a three-ring circusAMERICAN
If you describe a situation as a three-ring circus, you mean there is a lot of noisy or confused activity. Grief was a private thing, not something to be turned into a three-ring circus by over-eager reporters. Cooking needn't be a three-ring circus of sweat and tears.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012
a three-ring circus1 a circus with three rings for simultaneous performances. 2 a public spectacle, especially one with little substance.
2 1998 Spectator Along the way, these meetings have lost all that might have made them worthwhile…and have turned into a travelling three-ring circus.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
three-ring circus, a
An occasion of utter confusion. This late nineteenth-century Americanism alludes to a circus in which three rings or arenas are featuring performances at the same time. Possibly invented by P. T. Barnum, the epitome of American show business entrepreneurs, the term was transferred to other extravagant events and disorderly situations by about 1900. Rudyard Kipling used it in A Diversity of Creatures (1914): “I can see lots of things from here. It’s like a three-ring circus!”
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer