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.
- The circle of life: the cycle of reproduction and survival, from birth to death.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- To run circles around: to surpass with little effort. Similar term: “to run rings round.”
- To come full circle: to complete a series of events; to come back to one’s starting place.
- To go in circles: to repeat the same action without arriving at the desired place.
- 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.”
- To circle the drain: to be on the way out. The image is that of the last of the water draining from a bathtub.
- To circle the subject: to avoid saying anything specific about a topic of discussion.
- 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.