2

It's only 12 English words. If you figure 11 bits/word, that's only 132 bits.

That doesn't seem to be close to enough bits to re-create a lost wallet.

What am I missing here? How does this work?

4

The passphrase mechanism is accurately described in BIP 39

https://github.com/bitcoin/bips/blob/master/bip-0039.mediawiki

How Ethereum keys are derived is described here

https://github.com/ethereum/EIPs/issues/84

These mechanisms are common for Ethereum and other cryptocurrency wallets.

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