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"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a completely ad-hoc plot device"
David Langford, "A Gadget Too Far", as a corollary to Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law
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Phlebotinum[1] is the versatile substance that may be rubbed on almost anything to cause an effect needed by a plot.

Some examples: nanotechnology, magic crystal emanations, pixie dust, a sonic screwdriver, or even just some Green Rocks. In essence, it is the stuff that makes the plot go. Without it, the story would grind to an abrupt halt. It's science, it's magic, it's strange things unknown to science or magic. The reader does not know how Phlebotinum would work and the creators hope nobody cares.

According to Joss Whedon, during the DVD commentary for the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the term "phlebotinum" originates from Buffy writer (and Angel co-creator) David Greenwalt's sudden outburst: "Don't touch the phlebotinum!" apropos of nothing. [2] As if it's not obvious...it's also meant as a, at least somewhat, derisive concept as it's largely derived from phlegm, meaning a "goopy" and unwanted substance.

If the phlebotinum in question is simply a physical substance with unusual/extreme properties you are almost certainly dealing with the element Unobtainium.

A.K.A. Handwavium. Compare MacGuffin, A Wizard Did It, Hand Wave, and Deus Ex Machina.

Applied Phlebotinum is among the Tropes of Legend.

  1. or Phlebotinium, for our Commonwealth brethren
  2. Whether or not he had the etymological connection in mind, "phlebotomy" is the drawing of blood. Ironically appropriate in context.

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