“Cirque du Soleil’s show Love is a big hit in Las Vegas.”
We’re not talking about tobacco here. The “tabac” grew out of 19th century nautical slang. For sailors back then, a “coup de tabac” was a sudden, violent and brutal storm that could damage the ship. “Tabac” a short form of the old French “tabassar” which meant to beat up. The sailors said that the sound of a “coup de tabac” storm resonated through the hull and deafened them.
The expression then came to mean the noise caused by thunder during a storm. That’s when, in both French and English, we began to talk about a thunder of applause that crowned a smash hit show. “Tonnerre” and “tabac” gave rise to “faire un tabac” meaning to succeed so splendidly that it unleashed a thunder of applause, or a “tabac.”
Today, this expression has left the world of entertainment to stand on its own, becoming … a big hit.