Is there a word in American English that comes anywhere close to what British English circus encapsulates, that is,

Chiefly British An open circular place where several streets intersect. (AHDEL)

Brit. An open place, usually circular, in a town, where several streets converge. (Collins English Dictiinary)

Brit. an open circle or plaza where several streets converge. (Random House Kennerman Webster's English Dictionary)

British A usually circular area at an intersection of streets. (M-W)

Both square and plaza sort of approximate what I'm looking for. Neither appear to cover the circular aspect of the area, though...


An open place or area formed at the meeting of two or more streets.


A public square in a city or town.


  • 3
    We do not have that road-pattern in the US, although traffic circles and roundabouts are becoming more popular, but I doubt we'll end up calling them circuses. We reserve that word for politics. :)
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 13:15
  • 2
    Obviously, circus refers itself to a circular property but it is widely used in situations where one needs quite some fantasy to detect a circle. Just look at Picadilly Circus, for instance. A triangle? Ok. But a circle? The first word that comes to mind for similar places as the BrE circus would still be square, as in Times Square, which seems more "circular" than Picadilly Circus.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 13:16
  • 2
    Around here (mid east-coast US) I've only heard them called "circles". Not very imaginative, I know.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 13:37
  • You can always use "circle". But the thing closest to a British circus is likely a "square". Often the "square" will be in the center of the "old town" with roads coming in on all sides and something like a courthouse in the center, along with a park.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 13:39
  • (One wonders why you seek a US English word to describe something that basically doesn't exist in the US. Certainly US readers will have at least a basic conception of what a "circus" is in the UK.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 13:40

2 Answers 2


An American usage for "circus" is "circle." As in "traffic circle."

The American meaning of "circus" is a circular area where animals perform. The British usage encompasses this, but also refers to locations that an American would call a "circle.:


The closest I think you'll come to a word that emphasizes the coming together of several roads at a circle is roundabout. They can be very small or very large. Some highways come together at roundabouts. Nothing goes on inside these circular areas. The area is typically off-limits to pedestrians and vehicles alike.

P.S. But there are exceptions, especially when the roundabout has been retrofitted onto a former town square. Here's one about an hour from my home.

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  • As you say, nothing goes on inside a roundabout. That makes it a very different thing form a circus like Oxford or Picadilly... those are not just circular(??) roads, they are open spaces with lots of activity inside a city.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 13:26

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