Odd Phrase

"Severely Conservative"?

02.10.12 11:00 PM ET

I was racking my brains trying to remember what Mitt Romney's oddly phrased boast that he was "severely conservative" as governor of Massachusetts reminded me of.

Then it hit me: In Evelyn Waugh's Black Mischief, an English delegation from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals visits the African nation of Azania. The Azanian hosts welcome the delegation with a banquet, but do not fully grasp the message. One proposes a toast:

Ladies and gentlemen, we must be Modern, we must be refined in our Cruelty to Animals. That is the message brought to us by our guests this evening.

One might even say: severe.