This article takes up the question of the language within which discussion of research degree supervision is couched and framed, and the consequences of such framings for supervision as a field of pedagogical practice. It examines the proliferation and intensity of metaphor, allegory and allusion in the language of candidature and supervision, which appears to run counter to attempts to bring a contemporary rationality into the intensifying public discourse about supervision. The article examines, not how the problem of metaphorical language can be resolved and overcome, but rather how it defines and shapes dispositions, practices of knowledge making and knowledge itself. Some conceptual tools for expanding the conceptual-discursive field of supervision are presented. Three 'arche-metaphors' are considered, and supervision itself is discussed as a metaphor of the Enlightenment and the modern university.