a word in one language that is similar in form or sound to a word in another language but has a different meaning and is not etymologically related: for example, Spanish burro “donkey” and Italian burro “butter” are false cognates.
(loosely) a word in one language that is similar in form or sound to a word in another language but has a different meaning and may or may not be etymologically related; a false friend.
Origin of false cognate
First recorded in 1930–35
confusables note For false cognate
Cognates are words that are etymologically related, or descended from the same language or form. In proper usage, false cognates are words whose similarity in form or sound may be coincidental or the result of mutual influence; but they are not etymologically related. However, the term false cognate is often loosely used as a synonym of false friend, and so would include words that are or are not actual cognates. The confusion perhaps arises because etymologies are not transparent to the average person, or because false cognates as strictly defined are much rarer than false friends.
Words that may be confused with false cognate
false cognate , false friend (see confusables note at the current entry)