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I encountered this phrase in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esben_and_the_witch

His brothers did not stand to attention for Sir Red...

5

Stand at attention or stand to attention both mean "assume a military posture of motionless alertness". You may also see come to attention (but never *come at attention). In the context you provide it means the brothers did not show militaristic respect for Sir Red.

The form stand at attention is more often found in the modern (US) military, but to attention is not incorrect and both may be heard in other countries or in historical usage.

2

At attention (rather than to attention) is a military posture, and is in effect a form of salute.

As such it is a conventional way of showing respect, often used when somebody senior enters the room.

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  • This is not a particularly well-written Wikipedia article. Henry is correct that it should have been written "did not stand at attention..."
    – JLG
    Apr 30 '12 at 14:04
  • 4
    Actually both usages are found. "At attention" is more common in the modern US military, but "to attention" is not incorrect. Apr 30 '12 at 15:02
1

As an order, particularly British, one may hear "have the men stand to attention" after which they may be said to have been "stood to attention" (as if by some unseen hand). One may also say they are standing to attention, even after the action has occurred.

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Standing at attention describes a posture. Standing to attention describes an action of purpose.

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Military decorum requires junior servicemen to come to attention when a senior member (above a certain rank) enters the area/room, thus “standing at attention” is used as a sign of respect and discipline. Sometimes the failure to stand at attention is used to portray disrespect in books.

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