From Sadegh Hedayat’s “The Blind Owl” as translated by D.P. Costello:
My nurse came in with my supper, a bowl of barley broth and a plate of greasy chicken pilaff.
Do the bowl of barley borth and the plate of greasy chicken pilaff comprise the narrator’s supper, or did his nurse come into his room carrying his supper (its contents left undefined), a bowl of barley broth and a plate of greasy of chicken?
Note that a serial comma wouldn’t have made things clearer:
My nurse came in with my supper, a bowl of barley broth, and a plate of greasy chicken pilaff.
The problem is that now we don’t know if the bowl of barley broth is itself the supper or something the nurse brings in addition to the supper (its contents left undefined). However, the serial comma does make it impossible for the plate of greasy chicken pilaff to be anything other than an addition to the supper.
So how do we solve the ambiguity?
Common sense suggests that the barley broth and greasy chicken pilaff are the supper, because it would be odd for someone to bring supper and two more food items.
But reason doesn’t agree. Reason concludes that because there is no way to write a list of three items other than the way Costello wrote it, yet there are clearer ways of indicating that the broth and chicken pilaff are themselves the supper brought by the nurse (e.g. “My nurse came in with my supper, which consisted of a bowl of barley borth and a plate of greasy chicken pilaff.”), the sentence must be a list of three items and the narrator will simply have a lot of food to eat.