a three-ring circus

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three-ring circus

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.
See also: circus
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

a three-ring circus

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.
See also: circus
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

a three-ring circus

1 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.
See also: 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
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Five rings symbolize the Olympics, but hosting them has largely been a three-ring circus. Of the five continents, two--South America and Africa--have never been chosen for an Olympiad.
Some segments of works proved more mystifying than engagingly mysterious: Such was the case in Persona, where a man on a swing at center stage and women at his sides (one battling with a box; the other with a stack of papers) evoked a three-ring circus, separated but similarly obsessive in their tasks.