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