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I can only think of formal occasions when I have heard "thank you" spoken this way. Is this the case? Could it perhaps also be spoken sarcastically to have the opposite effect?

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Yes, a sarcastic use of this phrase is certainly possible (isn't it the case with almost any phrases?), but it won't have the opposite effect.

One sarcastic use of this phrase that I can think of is:

  • someone makes a nasty remark about you
  • you say お礼を言わせてもらう because it reminds you why you hated him

In other words, when anger works as a motivation. It's probably more common in comics and games than in the real life, but there you go.

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so the meaning of the sarcastic example is something like: I'll take that as a compliment? –  didierc Mar 16 '13 at 23:25

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