11 Circle Expressions

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A circle is a perfectly round plane figure. The fact that a circle may be drawn from beginning to end without a break makes it a powerful symbol.

The word circle occurs in many English idioms, often as a symbol of wholeness or repetition.

1. the circle of life: the cycle of reproduction and survival, from birth to death.

2. circle of hell: a place of punishment in the afterlife, from The Inferno. Dante describes nine circles or areas in which souls are punished according to the nature of their sins.

3. family circle: a theatrical term to describe the seating area farthest from the stage (aka “upper circle”). In general usage, family circle refers to a person’s closest family members. The word circle can refer to any intimate group of friends. The expression “inner circle” refers to a small influential group of people who run things in politics, business, or the like.

4. vicious circle: in logic, a vicious circle results when a false premise is followed by a true premise. In general usage, a vicious circle refers to a situation in which no progress or improvement can be made. Sometimes the expression “vicious cycle” is used instead.

5. to run circles around: to surpass with little effort. Similar term: “to run rings round.”

6. to come full circle: to complete a series of events; to come back to one’s starting place.

7. to go in circles: to repeat the same action without arriving at the desired place.

8. to square the circle: to attempt the impossible.

Other expressions draw on the verb circle, “to put a circle around something” or “to move in a circular direction.”

9. to circle the drain: to be on the way out. The image is that of the last of the water draining from a bathtub.

10. to circle the subject: to avoid saying anything specific about a topic of discussion.

11. to circle the wagons: to take a defensive position. The image is that of migrating American settlers arranging their wagons in a circle as a barricade against attacking Indians.

Note: The expression “to circle the wagons” is seen frequently in headlines and in articles about economics. The economists seem to view the American economy “as a fortress, a circle of wagons, as it were, that can be readily defined and defended” (Robert Reno, Newsday). Contemporary American Indians often find this expression offensive.

Here are some examples of these expressions gathered from the Web:

Raising Backyard Chickens to Teach Children the Circle of Life

If the road to publication is comprised of all the circles of hell, the first circle, I am telling you, is the “not right for me” or “didn’t connect with the voice” circle.

Our sincere thoughts and prayers are with the Paisley family and the wider family circle.

The conditions exist for a vicious circle involving voting and civic duty, whereby nonvoters decrease their belief in the importance of voting and therefore become less likely to vote in future elections.

Ray Allen Running Circles Around Garnett, Pierce, Nets so Far

Fifteen years ago, Ana Patricia Botín was pushed out of her senior job at Banco Santander … by the bank’s chairman, who also happened to be her father. On Wednesday, Ms. Botín’s … career came full circle, with her being named chairman after her father’s sudden death.

To be fair and to bring the story full circle, many of Brown’s accomplishments had their origins in Brown’s administrations in the 1970s and early ’80s. 

Washington state goes in circles over drone regulations.

Pensions and Social Care for the Elderly: Trying to Square the Circle

Circling the Drain: Can the Euro Be Saved, Or Is It Doomed?

There’s been a lot of talk this year about online learning at Concordia. Board of Governors and Senate meetings keep circling the subject.

US investors circle the wagons, hope Fed rides to rescue

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6 thoughts on “11 Circle Expressions”

  1. The buzzards are circling!
    The airliners are circling the airfield before landing.
    Ancient Phoenician sailors circled Africa for the first time.
    Magellan circled the southern end of South America.
    Lions are circling the herd of warthogs.

  2. Phobos and Deimos circle the planet Mars.
    One of Magellan’s ships circled the globe in the first circumnavigation of our planet, though Magellan was killed in the Philippines.
    Yuri Gagarin circled our planet once in 1961, and John Glenn did the same three times in 1962. Of the early astronauts, only Glenn remains alive – 52 years later.

  3. When we circle England on foot, that path isn’t really a circle.
    Likewise for circling Canada, Australia, or New Zealand in an airplane.
    “To circle” is a figure of speech here.

  4. Circling Ohio by foot or by jeep would nearly be a circle, but not quite. The northern boundary of Ohio is not circular.

  5. There was a comedy movie in which a character was fated to circle the seven hills of Rome seven times.
    Do you know the name of the movie?

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