The man pages for resolv.conf allude to an option "attempts":
sets the number of times the resolver will send a query to its name servers before giving up and returning an error to the calling application.
From what I can tell, this appears to be incorrect. Giving a single non-responding "nameserver" address and setting attempts to 3, only a single request is attempted. Giving 5 non-responding "nameserver" addresses, and setting attempts to 3, all 5 addresses are tried before the resolver gives up.
What am I missing?