I agree with Kate Sherwood, you should be able to attribute most quotes these days by simple fact checking. I also like her suggestions for introducing the text, but you can also consider other, formal methods of citation and attribution.
In those cases where it's ambiguous as to who said it (for example, there's disagreement or debate over the true source), provide a citation using the title of a known work that references the quote, or debates who said it. Likewise, if the author is completely unknown, attribute it to the title of a work that has this saying in it, because obviously you must have used the quote from some existing source. (This would be in accordance with MLA guidelines. See "Citing an Unknown Author" for an example.)
As a last resort, perhaps attribute it to "Anonymous", and provide the estimated year the saying seems to have come into use e.g. (Anonymous, ca. 1400).
If the saying is so common as to be widely known, then the MLA guidelines state that "[y]ou do not need to give sources for familiar proverbs, well-known quotations or common knowledge. Remember, this is a rhetorical choice, based on audience. If you're writing for an expert audience of a scholarly journal, for example, they'll have different expectations of what constitutes common knowledge."
Generally speaking, if you cannot identify the author of a source, you move the title to the author position in the reference list/works cited and use a shortened version of the title for the in-text citation. If you cannot identify the publication date, you substitute n.d. for “no date.” Here are examples of how it works in the three major citation styles:
Reference List (don't forget to indent the second and subsequent lines):
Per the APA Manual (6th edition), p. 184 and 185:
In a reference to a work with no author, move the title to the author position, before the date of publication. A period follows the title.
All 33 Chile miners freed in flawless rescue. (2010, October 13). Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39625809/ns/world_news-americas/
If no date is available, write n.d. in parentheses.
The College of William and Mary. (n.d.). College mission statement. Retrieved from http://www.wm.edu/about/administration/provost/mission/index.php
Per the APA Manual (6th edition), p. 176:
When a work has no identified author, cite in text the first few words of the reference list entry (usually the title) and the year. Use double quotation marks around the title of an article, a chapter, or a web page and italicize the title of a periodical, a book, a brochure or a report:
on free care (“Study Finds,” 2007)
the book College Bound Seniors (2008)
For additional examples and tips on citing sources with no author or date in APA Style, check out the APA Style Blog’s post on Missing Pieces, or the Purdue OWL (Reference List, In-Text Citations).
Works Cited (don't forget to indent the second and subsequent lines):
Per the MLA Handbook (8th edition), p. 24-25:
If no author’s name is given for the article you are citing and there isn't a corporate author that can be identified, begin the entry with the title. Ignore any "A", "An", or "The" when you alphabetize the entry.
“Where angels no longer fear to tread.” Economist 22 Mar. 2008: 89+.
If a book has no author’s or editor’s name on the title page, begin the entry with the title. Do not use "Anonymous" or "Anon".
American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton, 2005.
Beowulf. Translated by Alan Sullivan and Timothy Murphy, edited by Sarah Anderson, Pearson, 2004.
When a source does not indicate the publisher or the date of publication, supply as much of the information as you can, enclosing it in square brackets to show it did not come from the source. If a date is approximate, put after circa. Do not use n.d. unless your professor asks you to do so. See. 2.6.1. for more information or the MLA Style Center.
In-Text Citation (don't forget to indent the second and subsequent lines):
Per the MLA Handbook (8th edition), p. 55 and 56:
In a parenthetical reference to a work alphabetized by title in the list of works cited, the full title (if brief) or a shortened version precedes the page, paragraph, section, or reference number or numbers (if any), unless the title appears in your text. When abbreviating the title, begin with the word by which it is alphabetized.
International espionage was as prevalent as ever in the 1990s (“Decade”).
Works Cited format:
“Decade of the Spy.” Newsweek 7 Mar. 1994: 26-27.
For additional examples and tips on citing sources with no author or date in MLA Style, check out the Purdue OWL (Works Cited, Parenthetical Reference).
Per the Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition):
Notes and Bibliography method (p. 697 and 722) (don't forget to indent the second and subsequent lines):
If the author or editor is unknown, the note or bibliography entry should normally begin with the title. An initial article is ignored in alphabetizing.
A True and Sincere Declaration of the Purpose and Ends of the Plantation Begun in Virginia, of the Degrees Which It Hath Received, and Means by Which It Hath Been Advanced (London, 1610).
A True and Sincere Declaration of the Purpose and Ends of the Plantation Begun in Virginia, of the Degrees Which It Hath Received, and Means by Which It Hath Been Advanced. London, 1610.
When the publication date of a printed work cannot be ascertained, the abbreviation n.d. takes the place of the year in the publication details. A guessed-at date may either be substituted (in brackets) or added.
Edinburgh, [1750?] or Edinburgh, n.d., ca. 1750
Author-Date References (p. 801) (don't forget to indent the second and subsequent lines):
If the author or editor is unknown, the reference list entry should normally begin with the title. An initial article is ignored in alphabetizing. Text citations may refer to a short form of the title but must include the first word (other than the initial article).
A True and Sincere Declaration of the Purpose and Ends of the Plantation Begun in Virginia, of the Degrees Which It Hath Received, and Means by Which It Hath Been Advanced. 1610. London.
(True and Sincere Declaration 1610)
When the publication date of a printed work cannot be ascertained, the abbreviation n.d. takes the place of the year in the reference list entry and text citations. Though it follows a period in the reference list, n.d. remains lowercased to avoid conflation with the author’s name; in text citations, it is preceded by a comma. A guessed-at date may be substituted (in brackets).
Nano, Jasmine L. [1750?] Title of Work…
For additional information on citing sources with no author or date in Chicago Style, check out the Purdue OWL.
For further help please contact the Wolak Learning Center at 603.645.9606 (UC./On-Campus Students) and Online Writing Center at 866.721.1662 (Online/COCE Students) for assistance with citations.
You may also want to consider:
This information is intended to be a guideline, not expert advice. Please be sure to speak to your professor about the appropriate way to cite sources with no identified author or publication date in your class assignments and projects.
American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
The Modern Language Association of America. (2016). MLA Handbook. New York: Modern Language Association of America.
University of Chicago. (2017). The Chicago Manual of Style. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.