Arrick Underhill writes in to ask:
so, if I want to quote a fortune cookie and put it in my Works Cited, only later discovering that according to Google the quote originated with George Bernard Shaw rather than Ancient Chinese Wisdom, is it acceptable for me to continue with my plan to cite the fortune cookie? Or am I duty-bound by the standards of academic conduct to remedy the plagiarism of others, which seems to be the result of a time warp in which George Bernard Shaw actually made contact with Ancient Chinese Civilization and passed down his quote, in English, which reached me here in the 21st century. Or it might have been the 20th. I can't remember.
To be honest, the only reason I can imagine for citing a fortune cookie in the first place is to perform some kind of pomo hipster DFW-wannabe crap. In that case, the point is not actually to cite anything, but to parody the practice of citation by way of a crispy take-out treat. In that case, one should take to heart the MLA Handbook's directive to use your wits and adapt the style as necessary to the situation, e.g.:
"Yes, you squashed cabbage leaf, you disgrace to the noble architecture of these columns, you incarnate insult to the English Language: I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba." Fortune cookie. Berkeley, CA: Shen Hua, n.d. Eaten 6 October 2010.Indent appropriately and alphabetize under Y, secure in the knowledge that Susanna Clarke entirely pwned you as early as 2004.
Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's get serious. It's scholarship time, friends. Citation is about directing readers to your sources, and the truth is that readers are unlikely to reproduce your fortune cookie experience. Forget the cookie and cite Shaw. There should be a parenthetical citation within the main text looking like this:
(Shaw 11)and a works cited entry looking like this:
Shaw, George Bernard. Pygmalion. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981. Print.Does it sound like I'm squishing fun? Far from it. Scholarship affords something far more fun than the pale pleasures of parody: endnotes. (MLA style calls for endnotes, not footnotes!) This situation is ripe for a lengthy digression on how you arrived at the quotation, the appropriateness of a fake Chinese saying appearing in a fake Chinese dessert, and the Western desire to produce identity through a projection onto a mythic Orient. Ideally the endnote will cite Said and Auerbach, and finish with a lengthy discussion of monstrosity, and The Wonders of the East, and the checkered history of Cotton Vitellius A.xv.
Technically speaking, MLA style frowns on lengthy notes. But scholars love them for the freedom and joy in research that they express. This is what you get when you try to cite a fortune cookie.
[RF's Twitter response.]